Architecture & Enterprise Architecture

What does Enterprise Architecture really mean? Why does a company need to have a strong Enterprise Architecture?

Depending on who is reading – each person has a different perspective on what Enterprise Architecture.

  • Hands-down technical person’s view : Ivory tower, occasionally useful but mostly a pain, where all the “talkers” end up , and so on.
  • Management: I have a deadline , get out of my way.
  • Sr Mgmt – Hmmm. Do I need that. Actually I know what that is – let me tell you (but yikes I have never done that before)
  • Operations/Support – If they existed I would not have this mess
  • Business – I need it now. Whats all this waste in adding a simple MS Access application on my desktop to create quarterly financial reports.
  • and so on

Enterprise Architecture (EA) in most companies is often non-existent or grossly inadequate.

Before we begin to describe Enterprise Architecture, lets look at the two words – “Enterprise” & “Architecture”. Rather than me making up new definitions, lets use definitions/descriptions that some leading industry groups have come up with.

TOGAF defines “enterpriseas any collection of organizations that has a common set of goals. For example, an enterprise could be a government agency, a whole corporation, a division of a corporation, a single department, or a chain of geographically distant organizations linked together by common ownership.

The definition of an architecture used in ANSI/IEEE Std 1471-2000 is:

“The fundamental organization of a system, embodied in its components, their relationships to each other and the environment, and the principles governing its design and evolution.”

Take a medium to large system you have worked on – break it up into its components, study the relationships between them, relate them to the business/technical environment in which they execute and finally whether you did this formally or not there will be some design patterns and themes that stand out.

If you are a small company with a handful of applications you may not invest in an elaborate EA practice – yet. But even here I would argue you have the workings of an EA group. Otherwise you would not survive. Its just that you did not call it out as EA. If you happen to be a large company with 1000s of applications of all size – here is where an effective EA will lay the foundations for a more competitive company.

What does the EA do? First things first. EA is not about only technology. Enterprise Architecture should be driven by some business needs that add value to the company’s bottom-line. EA includes Business, Data, Applications, Technology and Services architecture. If you look at TOGAF9 it definitely lays out all of those domains – except Services. I believe Services architecture should be called out separately. The science of implementing an effective SOA is quite different from traditional silo’ed applications that are walled off from the rest.

Given this context let me try and answer  ‘What does the EA do?’

“An effective EA practice should be responsible for laying out and governing a measurable path to execution of a company’s business strategy; aligning with the operating plan”.

Think about it for a moment. Every successful company has a clearly laid out business strategy and an operating plan to execute that strategy. Example: Company ABC Inc is in the business of creating pencils and crayons for school-age kids. The strategy is to get into the top 3 firms in their business within the next 3-5 years by focusing on elementary grade school kids. They should lay out an operating mode that describes the time-frame and the how they will execute that strategy.

ABC Inc would need to hire the right kind of people, maybe do some restructuring to become more lean and reduce waste, spend more time in studying the market, focus on targeted advertising, sponsor little league baseball games to en-grain their brand name among kids and so on.

IT plays an important element of the EA but its not the be all and end all. If you go back to the start of the article where I list how each person sees Architecture – in TOGAF9 these are views that are seen from different perspectives or viewpoint. Each viewpoint only sees or cares about part of the picture. An EA practice should maintain the bigger picture and ensure that nothing is getting lost.