What Is Enterprise Architecture?

February 25, 2010

Information Technology (IT) Enterprise Architecture is concerned with translating business needs into IT reality. The purpose of IT is to serve business requirements and aspirations. Enterprise Architecture, in recognising this, commences with the business strategy and the stakeholders that are relevant to the business. A more detailed description for Enterprise Architecture is that it shows the relationships and interdependencies between the organization, its processes and the information, IT system and infrastructure that it uses; in effect, architecture is an effective and consistent set of principles, models and guidelines that give direction and set boundary conditions for IT.

Why Enterprise Architecture?

Enterprise Architecture (EA) is needed in order to make IT a responsive asset for a successful business. Businesses typically need EA for one of two reasons: to create efficiencies in its operations so that it can operate as a lean, agile enterprise or to create value for its customers by incorporating it as part of the enterprise’s business model. The former views IT in the context of a business enabler, and therefore as being part of its core operating model or as infrastructure. The latter, by embedding IT as a business driver, views it in the context of adding value for its customers and thereby as a means of creating profit for the shareholders of the business. In summary, the latter views IT from the perspective of a profit centre whereas the former views IT as a cost centre. These two divergent perspectives have very different focal points; IT when viewed as a cost sink can be outsourced but when viewed as a profit fountain is guarded and kept in-house. Most businesses view IT as a cost centre because they have not reached the maturity in terms of IT adoption and use to be able to leverage it for creating profits. Regardless of the cost-profit perspectives, a roadmap is required by any business using IT in order to understand what the current and future cost of ownership and return on investment (ROI) will be for its IT systems. And in order to create such a roadmap, an idea of the IT assets and how they relate to the business as well as the employees is needed. This is what IT architecture is! So every business needs an IT Enterprise Architecture, regardless of whether it uses IT to cut costs or to make profits.

Further, an IT enterprise architecture provides a strategic context for the evolution of the IT system in response to the constantly changing needs of the business environment. In essence, EA aligns IT with the business. It allows business units to innovate safely in their pursuit of competitive advantage whilst, at the same time, fostering the closest possible synergy across the enterprise’s business units.

Advantages of a good enterprise architecture are:

  • A more efficient IT operation.
  • Better return on existing investment.
  • Reduced risk in terms of regulatory compliance.
  • Faster, simpler, and more efficient business operations.

In order to maintain consistency between the principles and models and to provide guidelines that give direction for IT, a framework is needed.

Enterprise Architecture Frameworks

Using an architecture framework should speed up and simplify architecture development, and create an environment whereby IT architects and business stakeholders can communicate to create a more complete coverage and understanding of the desired solution. This understanding across the enterprise enables IT to respond faster to changing business needs.

A plethora of frameworks exist: TOGAF, PEAF, FEAF, IAF, XAF, TEAF, MODAF, DODAF, and Zachman are just some of these. The most commonly used Enterprise Architecture Framework is The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF). This is an open framework that is free, vendor-neutral and technology-agnostic. TOGAF is owned and maintained by The Open Group, a standardization body that also owns the UNIX standard for mid-range operating systems amongst others.

TOGAF views EA from three perspectives: business architecture, information systems architecture (this comprises of data and application architectures), and technology architecture as depicted by Figure 1.

Figure 1: TOGAF’s Perspective of Enterprise Architecture

Below is a description of the architectural components of EA.

  1. Business Architecture.
  • Business model, strategy, drivers, goals, policies, and operating model.
  • Stakeholders and their roles and relationships.
  • Functional decompositions, business capabilities and organizational models
  • Business processes and workflows.
  • Business rules that capture the assigned authorities, responsibilities and policies relevant to the business processes.
  • Funding and operational cycles.
  • Third-party suppliers of hardware, software, and services; their roles and responsibilities.
  1. Data Architecture.
  • Metadata: data that describes the enterprise’s data structures.
  • Data models: logical and physical models of data that is exchanged between business processes, stakeholders and applications.
  1. Application Architecture.
  • How the applications execute the business functions and processes by using the data architecture to fulfil business requirements.
  • Interfaces between applications as well as between applications and users; these interfaces can be driven by events, messages or data flows.
  1. Technology Architecture.
  • Platforms: hardware, operating systems, and virtual platforms.
  • Middleware; this can be message-oriented (such as WebSphere MQ), applications-oriented (such as Corba) or data-oriented middleware (such as relational databases).
  • Hosting of applications on hardware or virtual platforms.
  • Local and wide area networks.
  • Monitoring and reporting software.
  • Security applications.

The Future of Enterprise Architecture

Enterprise architecture is a young discipline and it is still going through a painful process of finding its rightful place in the enterprise. Currently, EA dominates in large enterprises that usually outsource some of their IT functions to a service provider. A need for enterprise architecture will persist in areas such as mergers and acquisitions (where seamless integration or disintegration of organizations is required), and businesses that use IT to deliver value to their customers. These areas will drive the agenda in future.

EA practitioners today form a disintegrated professional body. This is exacerbated by a great variety of professional qualifications vying to represent the career path of enterprise architects through various certification programmes. The future is largely dependent upon these bodies uniting and creating a single, professional certification or validation programme for aspiring enterprise architects. Market forces, in the end, will dictate how EA evolves and these market forces will increasingly be dictated by enterprises that have the greatest need for EA as described in this post.

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