Information Technology Management with a Purpose

Aug 15 2011   3:24AM GMT

Enterprise architecture demystified

S R Balasubramanian Profile: S R Balasubramanian

In the normal course we keep on adding servers, storage and other equipment in our data center to cater to the increasing demand for IT services in our organization. During this expansion we sometimes fail to notice whether our facility is still relevant to business. It is best to halt and do a reassessment of our IT set up. It was to address this need that about two decades ago, a new field was born that soon came to be known as ‘enterprise architecture’. This field initially began to address the following two problems:

System complexity: Organizations were spending more and more money building IT systems; and

Poor business alignment: Organizations were finding it more and more difficult to keep those increasingly expensive IT systems aligned with business need.

Issues that we are faced with

Management and users often express their dissatisfaction with the IT systems and we feel the need of addressing their concern. The common refrain that we hear is as follows:

i) IT systems have become unmanageably complex and increasingly costly to maintain.

ii) IT systems are hindering the organization’s ability to respond to current, and future, market conditions in a timely and cost-effective manner.

iii) Mission-critical information (provided by IT) is consistently out-of-date and/ or just plain wrong.

iv) A culture of distrust is developing between the business and technology sides of the organization.

Frameworks or methodologies

Though many methodologies evolved over a period of time, the following four were the most prominent, viz. The Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architectures, The Open Group Architectural Framework (TOGAF), The Federal Enterprise Architecture, and The Gartner Methodology.

We may call them frameworks, processes, or practices, but they did define a formal approach to the subject.

Adoption of enterprise architecture

Organizations can follow any of the approaches or a blend of these methodologies but it is important that they formalize this approach and follow this with all seriousness. But even a blended methodology will only be as good as an organization’s commitment to making changes. This commitment must be driven by the highest level of the organization. It is usually not possible to drive this initiative on our own and we may require the services of a consultant or an expert who brings in best practices based on his experiences with other organizations.

Now let me briefly discuss two of the methodologies as example to show the different approaches they follow:

TOGAF

TOGAF divides enterprise architecture into four categories:

Business architecture: Describes the processes the business uses to meet its goals.

Application architecture: Describes how specific applications are designed and how they interact with each other.

Data architecture: Describes how the enterprise data stores are organized and accessed.

Technical architecture: Describes the hardware and software infrastructure that supports applications and their interactions.

The Gartner Methodology

Gartner believes that enterprise architecture is about bringing together three constituents: business owners, information specialists, and technology implementers. If you can bring these three groups together and unify them behind a common vision that drives business value, you succeed; if not, you fail. Success is measured in pragmatic terms, such as driving profitability, not by checking off items on a process matrix.

Most organizations are facing major changes in their business processes. The process of creating an enterprise-architecture vision is the organization’s opportunity to sit down, take a collective breath, and ensure that everybody understands the nature, the scope, and the impact of those changes.

Enterprise architecture, in the Gartner view, is about strategy, not about engineering. It is focused on the destination. The two things that are most important are where an organization is going and how it will get there. Any architectural activity that is extraneous to these questions is irrelevant

Conclusion

Whichever method we choose, we should remember that enterprise architecture is a path, not a destination. Enterprise architecture has no value unless it delivers real business value as quickly as possible. One of the most important goals of any enterprise architecture is to bring the business side and the technology sides together, so that both are working effectively toward the same goals. No enterprise-architecture methodology can bridge this divide unless there is a genuine commitment to change. That commitment must come from the highest level of the organization and an enterprise-architecture methodology can be a valuable tool for guiding that change. This change can manifest itself in many ways.

It is obvious that an organization that does well in these key areas will be more successful than one that doesn’t.

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