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What is Enterprise Architecture?

In hindsight it was inevitable that the analogy would be eventually made between the practice of architecting buildings and what we do when we plan and manage enterprise systems. Zachman is widely attributed the honour. Apparently it was he who first recognised the mutual affinity for the conceptual and the same natural instinct to explain everything with a felt pen and diagrams of boxes and arrows. Given the sense of nobility to the title it was soon commandeered, to the point where it appears that real architects have since abandoned it and now aspire to be “Grand Designers”.

In IT, the appeal was universal and it wasn’t long that we had an architecture for every job description. The Network Architect, Security Architect, Integration Architect, Information Architect, Solution Architect and of course, the one to rule them all, the Enterprise Architect.

With architectural graffiti being sprayed across every nook and cranny of IT, somebody inevitably tagged the Enterprise Architecture; and ever since it’s sat there, puzzling us like the indecipherable calligraphy of teenage spray paint.

What is it? Who owns it? Why aren’t they doing anything with it?

What exactly are the concrete artefacts that comprise a business architecture? How do they align with all the other charts and diagrams that illustrate an enterprise architecture? Is there a standard model or a recipe for building one? Where does it begin, where does it end and what should it contain? These are all very good questions that emerge just as soon as one starts to scratch the surface.

There is a disturbing question here, since one would think that the business perspective should surely be the pinnacle of the architecture food chain. So if we haven’t got theirs worked out yet, what on earth have the rest of us been architecting?

Truth is that to date the focus has all been about mapping out how technologies talk to each other without much consideration for what we need to do to achieve our business goals and strategies and designing the most efficient, consistent and scalable way of doing so. Since we have rarely produced a well-crafted model of the business, perhaps this explains those wild accusations of enterprise architecture as a myopic and self-serving competency.

So, back to the question. What is a enterprise architecture?

A business architecture is a strategically aligned representation of a business operation and the ecosystem in which it operates. A enterprise architecture model explains what the business needs to do to achieve its desired results. It facilitates alignment of the strategic plan with the target operating model by making explicit the structure, execution and governance that guides the business operation. It is a roadmap for getting from strategy to execution.

The strategic plan for a business explains what it intends to achieve and how it plans to achieve it. The enterprise architecture model elaborates on that with a detailed decomposition of the organisational capabilities that the business will need to address the plan and assembles the capabilities into value-streams explaining how the plan will be executed.

Strategically aligned business capabilities are then mapped to the people, processes, information and technology in the target operating model, ensuring alignment between what you plan to do and what you actually do.

Importantly the enterprise architecture is a blueprint for change. Every business is in an inevitable state of transformation to keep pace with the ecosystem that it operates in. As a detailed model of the current state of the business operation, the enterprise architecture is a crucial element in planning for change.

Finally, we should impress that enterprise architecture is a top down exercise, conducted completely independently of the constraints of existing technology platforms. Rather, it will always be an essential precursor to the effective architectural design of strategically aligned systems. Bottom up architectural approaches that focus on the nuts and bolts of technology plumbing are a major contributor to the great divide between Business and IT in the first place.

How did we ever fall for that sales pitch that our businesses should adopt the “best practice” inherent in packaged applications? Unless you’re talking accounting software, PHOOEY!

Every great architecture starts with business.

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