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Enterprise Architecture June 28, 2012

Posted by mattpassini in Enterprise Architecture.
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The cross between software design patterns and business models

It is often hard to succinctly summarize any newly accepted term which defines a range of generally accepted best practices, especially when it transcends multiple organization units and incorporates the enterprise as a whole.  Perhaps it is easier to start with different perspectives.  A software engineer may relate to the generalization that Enterprise Architecture (EA) is similar in nature to software design patterns, but it applies to not only software, but the entire set of processes for each business unit as well.  From a business analyst’s point of view, it may be easier to relate it to a business model, but one that not only focuses on processes but also on the alignment of those processes to the software and technical infrastructure which supports it.

While neither of these simplifications is completely accurate, it helps create a mindset for understanding one of the widely accepted definitions of EA, which is, “Enterprise architecture is the process of translating business vision and strategy into effective enterprise change” [1]. However, it is important to understand that the goal of EA is not to simply create an end product, but to continually set the strategic goals that drive the business forward.  The separate organizational units must take these goals, utilize the architecture that EA has set forth, and align themselves with the other organizational units to create one unified and aligned business that is agile, effective, and efficient.

One of the most important aspects of EA is the alignment between the business units and the layers of EA.  While there are differing standards for the number of layers to EA, although generally limited to 4 or 5 [2], I prefer to view it as three essential layers.  This perspective is my own and differs from most of the research and standards that are available.  The three layers I select to reference are the Business Architecture, Information Architecture, and the Technology Architecture layers.  However, some models break the Business layer into process and integration, and most also subdivide the Technology layer into software and infrastructure.  From a high level perspective, using only three layers allows for easier alignment between the architectures.  This provides a bit of abstraction and allows for the organization units to subdivide their associated layers, which allows for easier and more simplistic alignment at a more granular level.

To me, the most important alignment is that between Business Architecture and Technology Architecture, specifically the software.  The purpose of Information Technology is to support the business practice [3].  However, many times IT professionals forget their main objective and veer off course.  When this happens, IT, and more specifically, the software architecture, becomes misaligned with the business architecture, and the business begins to slowly lose that agility, effectiveness, and efficiency.  This misalignment can be caused from day one by leaders who are not cognizant of the necessity of EA and alignment, or more likely, through many decades of incremental changes.  These incremental changes often slowly contort the original application architecture, and if a continual EA process is not in place to immediately catch and rectify the issue, the alignment will only continue to worsen.  There are four key heuristics that can be used to measure the alignment between business architecture and application architecture [4]:

  • Each business process should be supported by at least one application system
  • Business process tasks should be supported by a single application.
  • Critical business process should depend on scalable and available applications.
  • Each application system functionality should support at least one business process task.

Many organizations have been informally practicing the majority of standards that EA provides.  However, formalizing these standards and creating an EA team in the organization can be essential to properly aligning the business. While EA may be the most helpful to larger organizations, smaller companies should acknowledge the need for immediate alignment.  As smaller companies grow into large companies, it is far too easy to forget the alignment issues and blaze forward in an unsatisfactory fashion.  It is essential to remember that EA is not a product, but a process, continually mapping the current architecture, where the business wants to be in the future, and providing a solid road map for getting there. This should be done through standard measurement processes, including defining metrics a priori and testing them continually during development and after implementation.  Lastly, effectively communicating these results not only to the EA team but to the entire organization helps everyone understand the benefits of EA and creates a consistent understanding of the motivation, goals, and successes or failures.

References:
[1] Gartner Clarifies the Definition of the Term ‘Enterprise Architecture’
Published: 12 August 2008 ID:G00156559

[2] Essential Layers, Artifacts, and Dependencies of Enterprise Architecture, Robert Winter and Ronny Fischer, Journal of Enterprise Architecture, May 2007

[3] Perceived Usefulness, Perceived Ease of Use, and User Acceptance of Information Technology, Fred D. Davis, MIS Quarterly, Vol. 13, No. 3 (Sep., 1989), pp. 319-340
Article Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/249008

[4] Carla Marques Pereira and Pedro Sousa. 2005. Enterprise architecture: business and IT alignment. In Proceedings of the 2005 ACM symposium on Applied computing (SAC ’05), Lorie M. Liebrock (Ed.). ACM, New York, NY, USA, 1344-1345. DOI=10.1145/1066677.1066980 http://doi.acm.org/10.1145/1066677.1066980

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