Despite awareness of the concept and its importance, there's no standard definition of enterprise architecture (EA) and considerable ambiguity in the use of the term. The difficulty is in part a function of the subject matter, what's probably one of humankind's most complicated creations: the enterprise itself. Our professional biases and historically stovepiped world exacerbate the situation.
Alignment, rapid introduction, complexity reduction, speed, and agility are design objectives that answer the question, "What do we want it to look like?" So EA is perhaps at least part of the answer to the question, "How do we accomplish it?" Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke calls it "intangible capital." In his June 2006 commencement speech at MIT, he said,
In the case of information and communication technologies, new economic research suggests that the investments in associated intangible capital-figuring out what to do with the computer once it's out of the box-are quite important indeed. In my view, important investments in intangible capital remain to be made, as much still remains to be learned about how to harness these technologies most effectively.
The fact is, "EA" is not the best name for the subject matter, but it is the best name we have today. Most current use of the term EA is focused primarily on what might be called IT architecture, which is concerned with the logical and physical descriptions of data, applications, and hardware assets. Expanding on that, consider John Zachman's contention that "the business strategy and its linkage to information systems strategy ... ultimately manifest themselves in architectural expression."
You can add the definition used by the U.S. General Accountability Office (GAO) that an EA provides "a clear and comprehensive picture of an entity, whether an organization or a functional or mission area that cuts across more than one organization." The GAO adds that it "is a blueprint for organizational change defined in models that describe (in both business and technology terms) how the entity operates today and how it intends to operate in the future; it also includes a plan for transitioning to this future state."
Before you concatenate all that into your EA definition, reflect on the notion that EA is all about creating and using a shared "language" (of words, graphics, and other depictions) to discuss and document every important aspect of the enterprise. Without such a communication capability, optimal alignment, agility, speed, and simplicity aren't possible, nor can we hope to realize the potentialities of strategic planning, performance measurement, or process reengineering, or ensure success with security, privacy, governance, project management, innovation, and managing transformation and change.
If the people in the enterprise can't adequately communicate to align their thinking, there's limited likelihood that the more tangible "things" managed by those people (such as software, data, products, people, channels, monies, and so on) will be aligned with the more intangible things such as objectives, motivations, or government regulations.
Carpe Diem (Seize the Day)
EA is a new way of thinking about the enterprise, and a new way of managing it. There's a parallel to the way scientific management, as described by Frederick Winslow Taylor, was a key part of the intellectual or intangible capital that led to enormous productivity gains in the Industrial Age. EA has the potential to contribute similarly to the Information Age. The "productivity paradox" remains alive and well, and we still have much to learn about "what to do with the computer once it's out of the box." Who can afford not to seize the opportunity to better use all the knowledge about the enterprise?
EA is more a process than a project; more a journey than a task. EA is an ongoing innovation and transformation initiative. It's about change in processes, procedures, and language. But perhaps more important, it's about a change in the culture, as well as the hearts and minds in the enterprise. EA is about big-picture thinking, but it's also about the little picture (in the context of the whole). It's about achieving balance in optimizing the whole and the parts, and therefore about the alignment of the whole and the parts.
Too often, we optimize our subsystems to the detriment of the whole. Consider the U.S. health care system in which highly optimized and highly profitable subsystems of insurance, doctors, hospitals, pharmaceuticals, laboratories, and others, provide the most expensive, often the best, but by some measures the lowest quality patient care in the industrialized world. Support for this notion is abundantly available. Our enterprises are often just as dysfunctional.
Getting Started and Staying the Course
So how might you go about implementing an EA program in your enterprise? Start small and show early success. Try to identify EA initiatives of most value to the organization, and be opportunistic such as using EA to improve critical aspects of a new project or the outcome of a project currently in the pipeline. Find one that's already in the kind of trouble EA can help with. Before getting started, develop some understanding and agreement among key players about language, frameworks, models, and methods to be used. Remember, communication is key.
Engaged, clear, decisive, and continuing leadership from the highest executive levels of the enterprise is critical for fostering EA progress and paybacks. Determine the goals, focus, scope, and priorities, and aim for completeness and comprehensiveness, but accept that there will be trade-offs with the practicality and pragmatism of achieving daily business objectives.
And eat your own cooking. To the IT folks, that means use EA to continuously improve systems development, security, operations, and user support to better serve enterprise needs and to communicate with your customers and stakeholders. IT has already been doing EA to some extent under names such as analysis, design, and documentation. Don't just talk the talk; walk the walk. Whatever your job in the enterprise, do this and set an example.
Embrace change and learning. Remember that it's a journey and a process. Monitor, evaluate, and continuously improve. Quantify the benefits, and be able to show how EA helped make things better, and communicate that, too. Regularly take a hard look at cost and value, and keep making EA processes and products better, thereby improving the enterprise.
EA isn't easy or simple. It can't be outsourced any more than strategy can be outsourced. Although consultants and vendors can help, EA is about improving the ability of the people in your enterprise to communicate more quickly and effectively so they can manage and change the enterprise. EA is complicated and difficult work requiring courage, vision, and perseverance. Just like everything else, it's about properly planning and managing an enterprise.
EA is a new way of life. There's no quick fix; no silver bullet. It will take time and determination, as well as vision, courage, and commitment. Don't underestimate the difficulty and complexity of architecting the enterprise. Don't get discouraged; EA is a revolution in thinking, a discipline, and a process.
Change of this magnitude takes time and perseverance. Set realistic expectations. Don't assume anything. Make education and training a continuous process. Communicate and ensure you're communicating! Don't hesitate to ask, "What do you mean by that?" Use and reinforce new definitions, be they words or graphics, until they become part of the language and culture of the enterprise. Accept that all this is subject to change, too, so keep learning. There's much that remains to be discovered and invented, and many opportunities to create advantage and value. Celebrate your progress and successes, and learn from your mistakes. Enjoy the journey; you're transforming the world, one enterprise at a time.
EA is about creating and using a shared "language" (of words, graphics, and other depictions) to discuss and document every important aspect of the enterprise.
EA is about improving the ability of the people in your enterprise to communicate more quickly and effectively so they can manage and change the enterprise more quickly and effectively.
With EA there is no quick fix, no silver bullet. It will take time and determination as well as vision, courage, and commitment.
IT can use EA to continuously improve systems development, security, operations, and user support to better serve enterprise needs and to communicate with customers and stakeholders.