The Need for Enterprise Architecture

June 2016

Every enterprise has a business strategy that is formulated in terms of business goals and strategic choices. This is driven at the top layer and set direction for design and delivery of business services that are composed of processes, functions and systems. Technology and information systems are true enablers of business services as they provide many of the functionalities at lower layers to form business services. As technology advances rapidly, it opens new business opportunities and provides competitive advantage for those adapting them quickly.

Information systems are built on complex technology and usually grown over time as the needs arise. IT is constantly busy integrating them into the pile of the portfolio and there is always less time to validate the integrity and consistency of them within the IT ecosystem of the enterprise. Complexity can easily be out of control as the continuous growth of IT reveals complex intricate systems where everything appears to be connected with everything and no one knows what happens when something changes, as no one has a clear view of the whole.

Enterprise Architecture (EA) can fill this gap by connecting and aligning the business architecture (i.e. the holistic view of business services as driven by the business strategy at the top layer) with the technology architecture (i.e. the holistic view of heterogeneous and distributed IT systems at lower layers). EA is the discipline of documenting all these in the form of architecture models, frameworks, constraints, principles and guidelines covering both a long-term and a short-term time-span. The key to modeling is hiding complexity by using layers that are further broken into modular pieces (i.e. building blocks) and creating views that are relevant to the concerns of a group of stakeholders (e.g. business domain leaders). EA frameworks (e.g. TOGAF) provide detailed guidance about the methods or techniques here.

Once you have models that provide clear views of the landscape that hide complexity, decision making for IT should be much easier to manage and control as EA presents the material visible and understandable within a standardized package while tracing technology to the business architecture -that delivers business services and creates the real value for the enterprise to achieve business goals and strategy.

There is probably no enterprise that built an EA function from its foundation. Forming EA and modeling the enterprise from scratch is a painful project after years of fragmented growth of its systems. It is also a typical case to be challenged for the value of EA as it does not deliver a business service directly but the foundations for its design and evolution. There are many EA stories started with big promises but struggled to deliver usually because of moving objectives or unrealistic scoping of work that spans years, and ending up with slipped motivation that misses integrating itself into the culture of the enterprise.

Despite the fact above, modern EA frameworks offer methods and techniques to scope an EA project that serves a strategic objective -but not necessarily too strategic that misses the immediate need of its value demonstrated with measurable metrics. I summarized the TOGAF approach to this in a former article here. I also approached this in a practical way to develop a security architecture practice in an organization that has no EA culture. Simply, I followed the “bottom-up” approach for the proof-of-concept work. I tried not to be much disruptive and just worked with design authorities of individual systems or solutions in order to create generic patterns or architecture definitions. I simply described abstracted (and ideally reusable) building blocks extracted from system design information. Tracing and linking them up to the business architecture and strategy follows later to complete the picture. This approach does not necessarily need a dedicated team for architecture development and easily connects with individual design and delivery programs. I will share the details of this journey in the coming months.

In conclusion, having EA capability is essential for any mid/large size enterprise in the technology age and it is definitely not the question of “need” but “how”. Some organizations may be patient or resource-rich and may accommodate longer projects trying to establish a practice that is delivering measurable value in a few years of time. Though, this is less likely for many and being pragmatic and scoping reasonably will probably (and hopefully!) help new starters.