In this article, we will define Enterprise Architecture and why is it essential to navigate the complexity of enterprise transformation, the role of the Enterprise Architect, and the main use cases for EA. You'll also find information on how to implement Enterprise Architecture: which frameworks, models and diagrams are useful, what are the benefits of the software solutions dedicated to EA, and what should be the implementation strategy for EA practices.
Enterprise Architecture (EA) is a practice that aims to align the strategy and the operating model of an organization. Enterprise Architecture outlines how an enterprise should organize and operate to achieve its objectives. As such, EA provides a blueprint to support the transformation of the enterprise - it is a journey and not a one-off project.
EA provides methods to describe a complete vision of the organization to analyze and design it, then plan and implement its evolution. This completeness is ensured by 4 major architecture layers:
Each concept is therefore specific to a layer but it can be linked to concepts from other layers (e.g. a business capability may be supported by one or several applications, each of them relying on numerous technologies) and it's precisely the analysis of these relationships that enables identifying the impact of change. For example: what happens if a server deployed in the organization goes down? What would be the consequences for the business?
This impact analysis will help identify risks and anticipate problems, helping to better design and plan the transformation of the company.
Thus, the principal value of EA is its ability to provide recommendations to business and IT teams to adapt current processes and IT assets ensuring they are aligned with the company's strategy.
With the emergence of new technologies, information systems are getting more and more complex, heterogeneous, and costly for organizations. It's becoming more and more difficult to make these new technologies evolve easily so that they remain adapted to the needs of the company.
Enterprise Architecture makes it possible to implement actions to reduce the risks generated by these drifts and offers more concretely the following benefits:
Many companies don't understand the importance of Enterprise Architecture to support their business objectives. They focus mainly on building their Information Systems, without designing the organization as a whole. Therefore, they lack visibility on the strong dependencies existing between the business and IT. Information Systems built in that way are hard to maintain and have poor scalability.
But organizations’ complexity and the constant evolutions required by the business, explain why the use of an enterprise architecture practice is essential to successfully adapt to change. If you are renovating a house, without changing its foundations, you can probably do so without an architect. However, if your goal is to revise the structure of the house, which will require considering electrical plans, the water supply, and the load-bearing walls... the success of your project will require an architect.
Enterprise architects are in charge of analyzing operating models (structures, processes, resources...) to ensure that they effectively and efficiently align with business goals. Enterprise architects must also ensure that these structures and processes are agile and durable, allowing them to adapt quickly and withstand major change. Typically, they report to the CIO or other IT managers and go on to work as a CTO, software engineer, development director, or CIOs.
An undergraduate degree in computer science, information technology, or a related field, as well as at least 10 years of experience in IT or a related field, are required to become an enterprise architect. You should also have hands-on experience with computer systems, mainframes, and other architecture technology. To be successful, enterprise architects must have a variety of soft skills, including communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, leadership, and teamwork.
An enterprise architecture practice may encompass many roles:
CIO (Chief Information Officer) and CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) are often the main sponsors of Enterprise Architecture in the organization.
For each of these roles, Enterprise Architecture provides answers to their specific questions:
(People with IT focus)
(People with Business Focus)
To get the right answers to all these questions, EA must be properly implemented beforehand. This implementation can be tedious without guidance, which is why Enterprise Architecture frameworks can then help accelerate the implementation of an Enterprise Architecture practice.
An enterprise architecture framework is a set of structures, processes, and tools that supports the management and implementation of an enterprise architecture. The framework ensures consistency and reliability, it can be a real accelerator for people who want to set up an Enterprise Architecture practice quickly, without spending too much time on the definition of each concept and their relationships.
The framework structure is often hierarchical, based on the four layers: strategy, business, application, and technology.
There are many Enterprise Architecture Frameworks, but some popular frameworks include the pioneer of EA methodology the Zachman, the most popular one TOGAF (The Open Group Framework), and ArchiMate.
The Zachman Framework is the go-to for the classification of descriptive representations that constitute the enterprise architecture. The classification uses the six primitives to describe these models.
Then the Open Group created TOGAF, which is currently in its tenth version. This model uses a cyclical approach to the development of architecture.
ArchiMate is a notation that has been validated and adopted by The Open Group as an architecture notation supporting TOGAF. The Archimate framework breaks down systems into active structures, passive structures, or behaviors.
Frameworks are useful for companies that are starting an enterprise architecture practice but they quickly show their limits as maturity grows.
Frameworks tend to favor an academic approach that is not sufficiently focused on delivering results quickly in line with business expectations.
In many organizations, EA teams focusing on specific use cases such as application portfolio rationalization, cloud migration, or the introduction of new products/services are often most recognized than those that try to apply a framework in a more or less academic way.
EA aims to describe all the different perspectives of an organization to understand, analyze, and transform it. Modeling is key to describe this complexity simply and communicate it to all stakeholders. Modeling is necessary to understand complex systems, from multiple perspectives, it is also a perfect solution to communicate with non-expert people.
Architecture relies on models and diagrams to address several key objectives:
For Enterprise Architecture:
For Solution Architecture:
Enterprise Architecture's scope is wide and covers multiple use cases that aim to help decision-makers manage different types of changes.
EA practices help IT departments to manage and transform the IT assets of the organization by bringing visibility, impact analysis, and recommendations for two main use cases:
Transformation can be led by major organizational changes, such as mergers and acquisitions but also by the introduction of a new product/service, or simply by the modernization of the IT landscape like moving to the cloud or shifting from a monolith architecture to microservices. EA supports business transformation through the following use cases:
To establish the most sustainable outcomes, organizations can best support enterprise and data governance by bringing all risk management functions together.
The two basic tools used for corporate architectural planning are Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint. However, these tools often can't meet the objectives of an enterprise architecture practice for complex contexts. Other more robust third-party tools and software can assist you in developing advanced Enterprise Architecture strategies.
EA software that provides a single repository help facilitates communication and alignment across the organization, and enterprise layers speed up routine tasks that take up the architect's time and provides data-driven insights to make decisions quickly and confidently.
EA tools also provide modeling capabilities, allowing architects to design all models and diagrams needed for their work. These results can be shared within the organization through collaboration features such as workflows, alerts, and notifications. Indeed, it is necessary to involve more people in the whole EA process because maintaining an EA repository requires the collaboration of everyone.
EA tools automate and accelerate value creation for architects, allowing them to focus on the most valuable activities, such as data analysis and architecture definition. Less value activities such as data collection, which can be time-consuming and tedious, can therefore be automated thanks to features such as automatic discovery.
Next-Gen EA solutions also accelerate decisions by providing smart algorithms to automatically analyze the EA repository content and provide data-driven insights, such as recommendations for application rationalization or conflict detection for technology obsolescence management.
Building an Enterprise Architecture practice may be complex and time-consuming. Enterprise Architecture's scope is wide, and many enterprise architects try to boil the ocean too fast. They struggle to demonstrate value to their management and end up unable to renew their budget.
Following a pragmatic approach, based on use-cases and focusing on tangible outcomes, is the recommended way to set up an enterprise architecture practice that quickly provides value to its stakeholders (e.g. visibility on IT assets and business capabilities, first impact analysis...) while developing a strong baseline to support company changes.