Software architects still the 'meat in the sandwich'

It can still be an uphill battle getting enterprise architecture accepted both up and down the chain, says software architect

Enterprise architecture (EA) for information is starting to be seen as a good idea by Big Business, according to software architect Vish Viswanathan. But it can still be an uphill battle getting EA accepted both up the chain, by management, and down the chain, by individual ICT project managers.

As a result, the enterprise architect — who should be the vital link between the organisation’s business strategy, its operational business units and ICT staff — can end up feeling more like “the meat in the sandwich”, Viswanathan told a recent meeting of the Worldwide Institution of Software Architects’ (WWISA’s) New Zealand chapter.

A good enterprise architecture matches requirements, roadmaps, models and standards — for the business plan, applications, information flows and IT infrastructure — and retains all this (preferably in a digital repository) as a framework against which future decisions can be made. This store of knowledge reduces the preliminary work needed when a development has to be undertaken quickly. It also improves its fit with systems already in use.

The architecture provides a stable base, but is, nevertheless, naturally dynamic, too. It evolves in accordance with the direction of the business plan and technological development, says Viswanathan.

The first steps in developing EA include identifying the organisation’s major stakeholders and their concerns, and then asking how the values expressed by those concerns can be maximised, and how long each proposed change will take.

Formal channels and tools for communicating information, and recording those communications, also need to be developed. Devices for doing so are usually lacking in the typical business.

Information flows and ICT architecture are a mess in many companies, often the result of panic exercises, such as left-over preparations from Y2K and inadequately planned e-commerce ventures.

“[But] it’s not rocket science,” says Viswanathan. “It’s just a technique of looking at things in a different way.”

Enterprise architects also suffer from being viewed as a cost rather than a benefit and can find themselves constantly being asked to justify their existence, particularly by a new CIO, says Viswanathan.

It’s a different discipline to that required for devising architectures for specific projects, but enterprise architects often find themselves being pulled in when projects have problems.

However, the profile of those companies who decide on an EA implementation is getting broader. It used to be just Fortune 100 companies and governments who did this. Now tens of thousands of enterprises are doing it, too.

Viswanathan’s company, CC&C Solutions, uses a process founded on the Open Group’s architecture framework (Togaf) for its work. Viswanathan says Togaf is complex but there is a simplified version (known as “Togaf Lite”), which is suitable for use by medium-sized organisations.