What is enterpirse architecture?

I started with software development and then spent some time on technical architecture. Then there was a natural sense of progression to the next level, which is enterprise architecture (EA).

That’s where I hit a horde of problems. Starting with the basic one – what is enterprise architecture?

One must realize there is no standard definition for the subject. There are many close related, overlapping and sometimes vague explanations. It all boils down to what we mean by “enterprise” and by “architecture”.

Let’s for a moment say an architecture is a blueprint and the way we produce it.

For me, an enterprise (in philosophical terms) is an action performed by an agent at some point in time and space. To complete the definition I may add “… based on data/information/knowledge/understanding/wisdom to achieve its goal”, but that part is optional for unconscious agents.

That’s very abstract but in essence highlights the main issue with EA. How small or big is the action? Some may say a project is an enterprise. Some say IT department is an enterprise. Others will point out that a company is the enterprise.
And they are all correct.

Now EA is the blueprint for the enterprise. The blueprint for the project, for IT department, or some company. Or maybe me going to the local store to buy food. That is after all an enterprise of epic proportions.

Does this ring a bell? It really should. The problem it appears is not in the definition but what we want to do with it.

There are 2 sides here: on one some may want to get value from EA, on the other someone wants to sell EA.

Selling EA for the trip to the store is not going to be easy. We are talking here about description of all the stores around my current location with all assortment of products, prices, special offers, etc. across my preferences. I don’t want to deal with a complexity like that. And even if I did the value I get out of it would be minuscule. Right? Wrong! Apparently my wife use EA for shopping and saves us quite a lot of money in the process. She buys some products at Tesco, some at Asda, others at Sainsbury’s. Some in bulk, some on special offers. Does she know she uses EA? Of course not. Does she benefit from it? You betcha.

Try selling EA to someone who doesn’t understand it. It’s not going to work. And to finish the circle I state the reason: the definition of EA does not tell you what you going to do with it.
So when someone asks “what is EA?” they mean “what value do I get from it?”

Assume you have a project. What does EA give you? In essence it tells you where you want to go and what steps you need to take to get there.

What about the IT department? We can get a bit more. Not only we can see where we are going but also where we are now. We can plan, we can do “what if” and “buy vs. build” analysis. We may even propose to outsource the whole department if we see it will improve our function.

But why stop on just one department? Let’s see what EA can give us for the whole company. We can see where we are, where we want to be and how we get there. We can analyse any decision and predict the outcome. We can analyse made decision and quantify the actual impact. We can propose changes to the way the company works to improve it. But wait a second, does it mean that the budget we just discussed is an output of EA? Well, yes it does.

EA is a planning function. When you plan – you do EA. You don’t need to “buy” EA. You are already doing it. You are planning. The only thing you need to know about EA is that it is a holistic approach to planning. EA says: “if you are planning you may as well do it right”.

You plan many things and if we are talking about a big company you are not the only one. What EA adds on top of your usual activity is that when you plan make sure you know what others planned and vice versa.

So what again is the value of EA? These come to mind:

  • We plan with the main priority on reducing costs and increasing returns.
  • We assess innovations and know how we can benefit from them.
  • We plan for any decision to be made and thus we are sure it was right and we are prepared and go forward with clear head ready for anything.
  • We make sure the plans are consistent across the enterprise. If a captain said we go left everyone will go left even if they are not sure where left is.

And what is not EA then?

  • The decision making. EA tells you what may happen if the decision is made but it will not make that decision for you.
  • The execution of the plan. EA is about plans, not putting them into action. You may monitor the execution just to correct the future plans but that’s about it.
  • And then there is Strategic Planning. This activity is usually excluded from the domain of EA. But to be honest I see no point in that – it’s just another planning activity that concerns the company.
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