The Identity Crisis of Enterprise Architecture – Top Three Misconceptions

Enterprise Architecture (EA) starts out being misunderstood, like an adolescent suffering an identity crisis.

In the last article, we discussed what EA is, and how organizations can it as an effective tool to create a blueprint for a business aligned IT infrastructure. But does it get used effectively or not, very much depends how well it is understood. Today, we make an attempt to dispel the three most popular misconceptions about Enterprise Architecture (EA).

EA is going through an identity crisis, was eloquently debated by a panel of Open Group experts in this recent podcast, and how it gets often confused with Enterprise Transformation. Mark Blowers of Ovum wrote a few days ago that Enterprise architecture remains an IT-centric approach. And that is not helping.

Jumping right to it then, let me describe what Enterprise Architecture is not, by listing the top three misconceptions holding back enterprises from using this discipline to architect effectively for their ever-changing needs.

1. Enterprise Architecture is neither a “point” solution architecture nor a departmental architecture

Traditionally, the impetus for developing IT systems in an organization comes from business needs within a particular department. Apart from the plausible exception of ERP systems, the concept of systems that were common across the enterprise did not exist. In the late 90s, with the advent of websites, the intranet and the extranet, middleware platforms were employed to carry out Enterprise Application Integration (EAI). In fact, as mentioned in my previous article, EA becomes a necessity the moment two or more systems start exchanging data in a real-time manner. As business grows, so does the number of systems serving it. In order to manage this complex labyrinth of systems, an EA exercise becomes almost mandatory for the effective alignment of IT with business drivers and goals.

2. Enterprise Architecture deals with the IT alone

If aligning IT with business is the name of the game, then it is imperative that there is an equal participation from the business units i.e. other functions, both customer-facing as well as support. The early part of the EA process primarily involves workshops and one-on-one interviews with the business users of IT. These inputs are crucial for creating an appropriate EA vision for the enterprise. In other words, the executive sponsor for the EA exercise should be the entire executive and senior management team and not merely the CIO.

3. Enterprise Architecture is for large and mature organizations only

An evolved mature business organization typically comes with baggage of traditional legacy systems. The IT landscape in such an organization consists of systems with disparate technologies, at various stages in their life-cycle. This often is can be traced to vendor dependence and/or decentralized IT procurement. Such a landscape necessitates a corrective EA exercise, to make amends by defining the direction. On the other hand, a nascent organization with relatively few systems benefits from a proactive EA exercise to avoid the heterogeneous, complex and expensive IT landscape, of its mature counterparts. Needless to say, the cost, time and the resources required for an EA exercise are directly proportional to the size of the organization. All in all, an EA exercise is beneficial and recommended whether an organization is young or mature, big or small. In this instance, size does not matter!

Dr. Jeanne Ross, Director at MIT Sloan for the Center for Information Systems Research, discusses the impact of Enterprise Architecture on creating competitive advantage, especially in the new world of collaboration, analytics and mobility, that all depend upon digitized platforms. She argues that EA forces a re-think of business strategy, in her presentation about Gaining Competitive Advantage from Enterprise Architecture

In the next article, we will compare and contrast different Enterprise Architecture methodologies, and discuss their suitability for differing situations.

Contributor: Dr. Hemant Adarkar