What is Enterprise Architecture (EA)?

The Evolution of Enterprise Architecture (EA)

Enterprise Architecture evolution began as an idea in 1980 and was embodied in John Zachman’s early EA framework. Thus, informing the reference to John Zachman, as the father of EA. The evolution of Enterprise architecture was to address the increasing complexity of IT systems and difficulty of delivering business value using those systems.

Enterprise architecture is characterized by a framework that supports the alignment of business and IT strategy. It was first defined in 1992 by Zachman and Sowa, resulting in its reference as the Zachman framework. It was then referred to as Information System Architecture but later changed in reference, to enterprise architecture in 1996 when Clinger-Cohen Act of the U.S. government directed all federal agencies to implement a holistic approach to incorporate IT to their business goals. Interest in adopting Enterprise architecture has increased as a result, as both government and private organisations have adopted it in business processes.

The importance of Enterprise Architecture to an organization is encompassed is the definition of Enterprise Architecture according to USA federal CIO Council. “Enterprise Architecture is a strategic information asset base, which defines the business mission, the information necessary to perform the mission, the technologies necessary to perform the mission, and the transitional processes for implementing new technologies in response to the changing mission needs”.

Enterprise Architecture (EA)

The body of knowledge on Enterprise Architecture is still young. Despite this, it is considered as one of the important keys for addressing the ever-increasing complexity in modern enterprise.

Focus on Enterprise Architecture has arisen from a number of different areas, one of which is the desire to align business and IT strategy in today’s growing competitive environment. Another impetus for the focus on EA is the strong desire of enterprises to reach their objective putting architectural thinking into practice, and creating a holistic architecture.

Towards a Definition of Enterprise Architecture (EA)

An in-depth understanding of Enterprise Architecture is obtained if one considers its constituent words: “Enterprise” and “Architecture”. These are two words which while appearing simple enough to understand, require a thorough understanding in the context of Enterprise Architecture.

An enterprise is defined by Federal Chief Information Officer (CIO) Council as, “an organisation or cross organisational entity supporting a defined business scope and mission”. It consists of people, information, technologies that perform business functions, in a defined organisational structure that is distributed in multiple location which respond to internal and external events and provide specific services to its customers. In producing an output in the form of products and services, an enterprise as a whole moves through various activities in a cyclic form. This is referred to as the enterprise life cycle. It is dynamic and iterative due to changes over time owing to new business process, technology advancement, capabilities, maintenance, disposition and re-use of existing elements of the enterprise.

The definition of “architecture”, and more specifically in relation to enterprises or systems, is a lot more complicated. This is made all the more so, given that there exists no single agreed definition. Taking into account the general view of the composition of architecture itself, we are led to adopt the definition of Architecture according to ANSI/IEEE standard 1471-2000. This defines “architecture” as “the fundamental organisation of a system embodied in its components, their relationships to each other and to the environment and the principles guiding its design and evolution”. This can be viewed as the orderly arrangement of the components that makes up a system and the relationships of these components.

Enterprise Architecture has emerged from business and IT perspectives.  EA is a conceptual framework that describes how an enterprise is constructed by defining its primary components and the relationships among these components. EA is also defined as the organizing logic for business processes and IT infrastructure reflecting the integration and standardization requirements of the company’s operating model.

Enterprise Architecture  is a description of the goals of an organisation, how these goals are realized by business processes, and how these business processes can be better served through technology. However, Enterprise Architecture is a discipline whose purpose is to align IT and business strategy to achieve a competitive advantage. The definitions of EA emphasize EA as a framework and EA as a process for transforming an enterprise. EA thus consist of a framework which provides a structured holistic view of an enterprise used to manage and align IT with business strategy where IT is used to support the business operations.

Importance of EA in Organization

Increasing pace of information Technology has influenced the increased need for Enterprise Architecture. Adopting EA is the key to the survival of an enterprise due to the high rates of change and complexity in the world economy. An enterprise that aspires to achieve its vision must be able to identify its current or as-it state, and have a concrete plan on how to get to its target or to-be state. Without an appropriate communication method and tools, it can be challenging to communicate the vision of the enterprise. However, EA depicts an enterprise current state and aspired future state with visual models making communication much easier and faster. Enterprise Architecture plays an important role in an organization. It is critical to the survival and success of the organization, while enabling the organisation to achieve a right balance between IT efficiency and business innovation. Typically, EA helps to facilitate business success such as competitive advantage through the effective use of information management strategies and IT resources. Enterprise Architecture can be used by a company to organise and structure its enterprise infrastructure providing stakeholders and system architects appropriate architectural details.

Enterprise Architecture  may however be developed for a wide variety of reasons. EA is developed for:

  1. Alignment: to ensure that the implemented enterprise aligns with management’s intent.
  2. Integration: the connectivity and interoperability of business rules, processes, information flow and interfaces are consistent across the organisation.
  3. Convergence: pushing towards standardized IT portfolio based on Technical Reference Model (TRM). Thus, creating a common organisational language.
  4. Change: facilitating and managing improvement in all aspects of the enterprise.

Another important reason to consider EA adoption is the need for an organisation to stay commitment to her long term goals. The agility of an enterprise is dependent on a long-term implementation strategy using EA while short-term implementation creates a temporary illusion of an agile enterprise. Therefore, EA is a mechanism to help her adopters remain focused on the achievement of long-term visions while providing a framework for managing everyday operational risks.

In order to respond to the constant changes in business needs, a stable platform is needed to support the enterprise operations. The traditional approach to building an information system, by purchasing applications specifically for a department or a unit area increases complexity, introduces redundancy and hinders the enterprise from growing. This is known as business silos. It is whereby individually the application functions effectively but when combine gives no foundation for execution of enterprise processes. However, the introduction of EA into an enterprise process is a holistic approach taken to address the organisation-wide application needs with a clear understanding of how each component is related to others both at the data, software and hardware levels of abstraction resulting to integrated silos architecture.

Components of Enterprise Architecture

Enterprise Architecture is all about the elements that make up an enterprise and how these elements inter-relate. Enterprise Architecture frameworks contain a list of recommended standards and compliant products for designing information systems in terms of a set of building blocks and how these building blocks relate together. It supports the integration of the business, system and technology architectures while aligning business and IT strategy. The four architectural disciplines based on a hierarchical, multi-level systems theory approach that are commonly accepted as subsets of the overall enterprise architecture:

  1. Business Architecture: it represents the fundamental structure of an organisation from the business strategy viewpoint such as goal systems, governance, key business process and organisation.
  2. Application Architecture: it represents the fundamental structure of an enterprise that provides a blueprint of the individual application system to be deployed, their interaction with core business process.
  3. Data (Information) Architecture: it represents the fundamental structure of the logical and physical data assets of the organisation and its data management resources.
  4. Technology Architecture: it represents the fundamental structure of an enterprise that describes the hardware platforms and software infrastructure that support the applications.

Often used to denote the compound set of application, information and technology architectures is IT architecture. IT architecture is defined as the organizing logic for data, applications and infrastructure, captured in a set of policies, relationships and technical choices to achieve desired business and technical standardization and integration. Thus, representing the business and IT structure of an enterprise is EA.

Enterprise Architecture Framework

Enterprise Architecture  frameworks provide common terminology and generic concepts which makes it easy for stakeholders to communicate without taken into consideration various languages. They have been adopted by many organisations government agencies for operational use. Two often cited architectural frameworks which are commonly considered a founding framework are The Open Group Architectural Framework (TOGAF), and The Zachman Framework.

TOGAF — it was developed based on the Department of Defence’s Technical Architecture Framework for Information Management in 1995. The framework provides rules for governance, designing, developing and implementing an EA. Its main components are architecture capability framework, Architecture Development Method (ADM), Architecture Content Framework and Enterprise Continuum. The important part of TOGAF is the ADM which specifies the process of developing the architecture. However, it does not provide a set of architecture principles.

Zachman Framework — it is a framework that shows the interconnected relationship within an enterprise. It was published in 1987 by John Zachman. The framework is based on architecture and engineering principles. The framework represents two dimensions, the first dimension concerns the different perspectives of people involved in the architecture process which are: Planner, Owner, Designer, Builder, Subcontractor and User. The second dimension deals with the basic questions: what, how, where, who, when and why. Zachman framework presents comprehensive view of the actual processes of an enterprise which guides decision making, IT resources and architecture principles. However, it does not provide an avenue for practical application of the framework as much guidance for planning, implementation and maintenance of the architecture.

Benefits of Enterprise Architecture

During the past few years, IT has not only affected ways in which organisation do business such as automating its processes, but has extended to how customers, stakeholders and regulatory bodies interact with the organisation. However, Enterprise Architecture is faced with re-engineering of the whole organisation from all perspective such as users, systems, geographical location and mode of dispersion to improve the working processes in the organisation. Using EA properly, an enterprise can get significant business and IT benefits:

  1. It provides clear model of the organisations’ business, application, data and technology architecture, their dependencies and inter-relatedness. This will help the organisation to make business decisions based on holistic view instead as a stand-alone part.
  2. Enterprises can increase their business values by aligning IT with their business strategy; it helps the organisation to unlock the power of information, unifying information silos that inhibit business processes.
  3. EA ensures organisations invest in projects that are targeted towards their goals, objectives and visions. It identifies opportunities for reuse and integration which prevent inconsistent processes and information.
  4. It provides an organisation with a planning process to better understand its business strategy which helps the organisation to respond faster to competitive pressures and deploy a higher quality faster.
  5. EA identifies duplicate and overlapping processes, services, data hardware and software, traces high cost areas of IT assets in order to develop a fairer cost model and ensures compliance to legal and regulatory laws.

The goal of Enterprise Architecture is to add business value to the organisation and not to only be used for the documentation of the processes, systems and information that exist in the organisation. The alignment of business and information technology strategy is a key issue in an organisation based on the impact IT has in the overall organisation. In such an organization EA provides the fundamental technology and process infrastructure. IT develops the application, technology and data foundation necessary for the delivery of the needed integration and standardization while business defines the strategies that use the capabilities that are in place. Thus, the integration of business strategy with IT objectives is not only an IT issue but an organisational concern.

Enterprise Architecture has been widely adopted by many private and government organisations to cope with ever-increasing complexity. It has been promoted as a key tool for transformation and modernization of government institutions around the world. This ensures the proper use and optimization of the organisations’ technical resources in other to reduce costs while increasing their strategic agility. EA is not just a technology map but a strategy for the entire enterprise. Organisations such as UPS, Toyota Motor Marketing Europe, Dow Chemical Company have adopted EA to strategic areas such as budget allocation, information sharing, performance measurement and component-based architecture. In addition, EA is used as a management tool for aligning IT and business objectives with respect to the current and future vision of an enterprise. As a tool it helps stakeholders and business owners manage dynamic changes and challenges in a timely and cost effective way.

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