Enterprise architecture is not rocket science – it is about do’s and don’ts

The key to successful EA is to keep it simple, stupid, says Daniel Minoli

Some areas of networking, such as satellite communications, actually involve rocket science. Building an enterprise architecture, however, is not rocket science. Its goal is to create a unified IT environment of standardised hardware and software systems across an entity, with tight links to the business side of the organisation.

Many companies have made major IT investments in recent years and need to optimise these assets. Organisations such as banks and insurance companies, which have information-intensive operations, typically spend as much as

6-10% of gross revenue on their IT budgets. IT assets encompass logical resources, such as applications and databases, as well as physical resources such as processors, storage and networks. A firm optimises these assets by developing an enterprise architecture — a blueprint of its information systems and technology environment.

With an enterprise architecture, a company creates a map of its IT assets and business processes, and a set of governing principles that support the business strategy and how it can be expressed through IT. The enterprise architecture specifies equipment, protocol and interface standards; IT strategies; projects needed to bring about the architecture and achieve the target state, and a development/deployment plan.

There are many models for developing an enterprise architecture, including the Open Group Architecture Framework, the Zachman Architecture Framework and the Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework. Most frameworks contain four basic domains, the first of which is business architecture, or documentation that outlines the firm’s most important business processes. Second is information architecture, documentation that identifies where important blocks of information, such as customer records, are kept and how to access them. The third is application system architecture, a map of the software applications’ relationships to one another. The last is infrastructure technology architecture, a blueprint of the firm’s hardware, storage systems and networks.

Always remember that, as stated above, enterprise architecture is not rocket science. It involves following proven do’s and don’ts, the first of which is to have an underlying architecture framework and a roadmap for realising your goals. Other do’s are: have standards and conformance criteria; use industry-developed approaches and modelling tools, not homegrown architecture frameworks and models and hire and utilise the right people. The don’ts include: don’t spend too much time developing the framework, so losing credibility with the firm about the value of enterprise architecture; don’t be in a situation where there are no mechanisms for enforcing the architecture effectively; don’t rubber-stamp every project (make sure they conform to the enterprise architecture) and don’t make architecture artifacts so esoteric that no one uses them after they are written.

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