Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Why Enterprise Architecture?

Recently a friend of mine asked me to explain in simple terms the benefit of having an Enterprise Architecture for an organization. The challenge was to translate the message in non-technical non-complex terms without any jargon. He apparently had read an EA white-paper by a big analyst firm and had his head spinning :) . I won’t blame him – this is a problem with ‘complex definitions’.

As architects, the most important challenge that we solve day-in and day-out is in reducing and managing IT complexity. Yet, it’s an irony that many architects/analysts use ‘complex long phrases’ to describe even the simplest of concepts.

Enterprise architecture is required to give a holistic view of the entire IT landscape of the organization. This enables the organization to view its current state and plan for the future state of its IT operations. EA is very useful to plan and prioritize your IT budgets in accordance with your important business priorities. It serves as a powerful communication tool between the business and IT teams and helps align new IT investments appropriately. Organizations have also started using EA as a tool for risk management and SWOT analysis.

Thus having an Enterprise Architecture Framework helps us in visualizing the ‘big picture’ and the relationship between different domains. It also leads to better governance and low maintenance cost enabled by enforcement of technology standards and architecture guidelines.

Quite often, EA is compared to ‘city planning’. In city planning, you look at the big picture and establish zones for specific purposes. It lays down the guidelines and best practices for buildings, roads, water supply, hospitals, etc. The design of each building is analogous to ‘Solution Architecture’. The special skill of designing a kitchen is analogous to ‘technical/application architecture’.

So to summarize, EA has the following advantages:
  • Helps build a common understanding of the future IT direction of the enterprise.
  • Provide clear mapping of the business processes and the IT systems supporting it. Provides visibility into how the business processes enable the mission of the enterprise.
  • Improves interoperability and integration by defining enterprise canonical message models and data models. Also integration standards and guidelines - for e.g. SOA, MOM, etc.
  • Enables organizational agility - If we need to respond to a business change, what is the impact on the IT systems, etc.
  • Less cost due to technical homogenity that is easier to support and maintain.
  • Powerful tool for communicating risk and change to all stakeholders in the enterprise.

There are a number of frameworks for defining EA – popular among them are the Zachman Framework and TOGAF. I had also blogged earlier about tools used for creating an EA.

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