The business ecosystem is getting complex. Every organization must transform itself to stay competitive according to multiple changes: customer expectations, new competitors, emerging technologies, regulation changes, and any world disruption. Enterprise Architecture (EA) is critical to support this transformation, despite its complexity.
In this article, we will define Enterprise Architecture and why it is essential to navigating the complexity of enterprise transformation, the role of the Enterprise Architect, and the primary use cases for EA.
You'll also find information on how to implement Enterprise Architecture: which frameworks, models, and diagrams are helpful, what are the benefits of the software solutions dedicated to EA, and what should be the implementation strategy for EA practices.
What is Enterprise Architecture?
Enterprise Architecture (EA) is a practice that aims to align an organization's strategy and operating model. Enterprise Architecture outlines how an enterprise should organize and manage 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.
The four layers composing enterprise architecture
EA provides methods to describe an entire organization's vision to analyze and design it, then plan and implement its evolution. 4 primary architecture layers ensure this completeness:
- Business architecture: This layer describes the company's strategy, the services offered, the organization, and the business capabilities required to deliver the services.
- Application architecture: This layer defines the enterprise's application portfolio, integration, and how these IT assets support the processes and services delivered.
- Information Architecture: This layer defines the enterprise's information requirements and data model and helps ensure data is managed to support business needs.
- Technology architecture: This layer identifies the technologies (software and hardware) that support the applications and data and understand how they are deployed.
Each concept is, therefore, specific to a layer. Still, it can be linked to concepts from other layers (e.g., a business capability may be supported by one or several applications, each 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 design better and plan the company's transformation.
Why is enterprise architecture important?
Enterprise architecture is Critically important for several reasons:
- It provides a common language and framework for businesses discussing IT initiatives. This common language allows different departments and business units to communicate more effectively with each other, which can help avoid costly misunderstandings.
- Enterprise architecture can help an organization better align its IT investments with its business goals. By understanding how its various IT systems work together, an organization can ensure that its IT investments support its strategic objectives.
- Enterprise architecture can improve an organization's overall efficiency by helping it to identify and eliminate duplication and redundancy in its IT systems.
Benefits of enterprise architecture
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.
Enterprise Architecture tool makes it possible to implement actions to reduce the risks generated by these drifts and offers more concretely the following benefits:
- Provide a shared vision of the organization
- Reduce IT complexity and facilitate the evolution of Information Systems
- Reduce IT costs by removing redundancies and breaking the organizational silos
- Reduce technology risk
- Improve collaboration between business and IT teams
- Align IT investments, business resources, and organization to the company's strategy
- Facilitate compliance with regulations
- Build organizational resilience
- Ensure system interoperability
- Standardize practices and processes
How does enterprise architecture add value to organizations?
Many companies do not understand Enterprise Architecture's importance in supporting their business objectives.
They focus on building their Information Systems without designing the organization. Therefore, they lack visibility on the strong dependencies 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 using an enterprise architecture practice is essential to adapt to change successfully.
If you renovate a house without changing its foundations, you can do so without an architect. However, if your goal is to revise the house's structure, which will require considering electrical plans, the water supply, and the load-bearing walls, your project's success will require an architect.
Role of Enterprise Architect
Enterprise architects analyze operating models (structures, processes, resources...) to ensure that they effectively and efficiently align with business goals.
The role of enterprise architects is also to ensure that these structures and processes are agile and durable, allowing them to adapt quickly and support significant changes. They usually report to the CIO (Chief Information Officer) or other IT managers and may work as CTO (Chief Technology Officer), software engineer, development manager, or CIO.
An undergraduate degree in computer science, information technology, or a related field, as well as at least ten 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 architectural techniques. To succeed, enterprise architects must have various soft skills, including communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, leadership, and teamwork.
Enterprise architecture stakeholders and their concerns
As Enterprise Architecture aims to describe an organization's complexity, EA’s scope is wide. That’s why many roles within the organization may be involved in the EA processes, depending on the intended objective.
- Enterprise Architects: provides architecture services that transform the operating model to align with the strategy.
- Portfolio Managers: responsible for maintaining and rationalizing application or technology portfolios
- Business Architects: define business models and capability models, and ensure that value streams are aligned with customer expectations and journeys
- Solution Architects: design technology solutions to meet business needs, typically at the application, service, and infrastructure levels
- Security Architects: verify that newly designed architecture complies with the organization's security policy
- Business Analysts: refine and optimize processes for general improvements or regulatory reasons, as well as define candidates for automation
- Chief Data Officer/Information Architects: manage and design where data and information are used, moved, or stored across the enterprise and support intelligence, regulatory, privacy, and data science activities
- Risk/Compliance Managers: responsible for assessing risk exposure and regulatory compliance of the current or future state of the enterprise
CIO (Chief Information Officer) and CISO (Chief Information Security Officer) are often the organization's leading sponsors of Enterprise Architecture.
What enterprise architecture does in your role for IT operations?
For each of these roles, Enterprise Architecture provides answers to their specific questions:
(People with IT focus)
- Solution Architect: How should I integrate a new solution into the IT landscape? What are the authorized technologies in the company? Should I deploy this application in the cloud or on-premises?
- Security Architect: Does the new solution respect security principles? What are the threats and vulnerabilities of each application?
- Developer: Which microservices should I leverage? What are the current application integrations?
- CTO (Chief Technology Officer): What is the technology roadmap? What are the risks coming from technology obsolescence? How do I mitigate these risks?
- CIO: How can we prioritize our IT investments to support the company's strategic priorities? How should we transform our IT landscape? In which application should we invest? Which applications should be removed? What is the IT roadmap? What is the cost of our IT landscape, and how can we reduce IT costs?
(People with Business Focus)
- Business Analyst: Which applications support this process? How should we automate this process?
- Risk Officer: What are the risks to IT assets (cybersecurity, compliance)?
We must implement EA appropriately to get the correct answers to all these questions.
This implementation can be tedious without guidance, which is why Enterprise Architecture frameworks can help accelerate the performance of an Enterprise Architecture practice.
Enterprise architecture framework
An ea framework is a set of structures, processes, and tools that support the management and implementation of an enterprise architecture.
The framework ensures consistency and reliability; it can be a natural accelerator for people who want to set up an Enterprise Architecture practice quickly without spending too much time defining each concept and its relationships.
Please continue reading here to learn more about the enterprise architecture framework's principles and best practices.
Enterprise Architecture models and diagrams
EA aims to describe an organization's different perspectives to understand, analyze, and transform it.
Modeling is vital to explain this complexity and communicate it to all stakeholders. Modeling is necessary to understand complex systems from multiple perspectives; it is also a perfect solution to share with non-expert people.
Architecture relies on models and diagrams to address several key objectives:
For Enterprise Architecture:
- Business motivation model to represent the enterprise strategy and visualize enterprise objectives.
- Business Model Canvas to get a high-level, comprehensive view of the strategic items required to bring a product to market successfully
- Business capability maps to clearly understand the enterprise's capabilities and how IT assets support them.
- Customer journey map to understand how customers interact with the organization and their satisfaction level
- Process/Value stream maps to visualize how products and services are delivered and analyze the value delivered to customers.
- Enterprise transformation roadmap and IT roadmap to visualize and communicate how business and IT projects are planned over time.
For Solution Architecture:
- Solution environment model to define the solution's integration into the existing IT landscape.
- Application deployment model to describe how technical components of an application must be deployed to avoid potential pitfalls
- Technical infrastructure map to describe the technical infrastructure required to support the deployed solution
Main use cases and examples for Enterprise Architecture
Enterprise Architecture's scope is vast and covers multiple use cases that aim to help decision-makers manage different changes.
IT landscape management
EA practices help IT departments to manage and transform the IT assets of the organization by bringing visibility, impact analysis, and recommendations for two primary use cases:
- Application rationalization is one of the critical use cases of Enterprise Architecture. The objective is to analyze the current IT landscape to detect functional redundancies, identify optimizations to be done, and reduce costs. By providing clear visibility of existing applications, their available scope (the link with the Business Capabilities), and their costs, EA provides insights for application rationalization.
- Technology management defines technology standards (technologies that can be used in the organization), establishes processes to evaluate and acquire technologies, and mitigates the risk of obsolescence by managing application and technology lifecycles and detecting potential conflicts.
Plan and execute transformation
Transformation can be led by significant organizational changes, such as mergers and acquisitions, but also by introducing 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:
- IT strategic planning: ensure the alignment between business needs and IT investments
- Business efficiency improvement: by providing a vision of how applications support processes, EA helps business analysts get a better understanding of why some strategies are not performing as expected or are failing to match customers' expectations
- Cloud migration: EA provides insights to define the best cloud migration strategy by identifying which applications should be migrated to the cloud and how
- Solution architecture defines the required architecture for a new IT solution from different perspectives (business, functional, application, technical, and security)
- EA can also contribute to providing benchmarks.
Organizations can best support enterprise and data governance by bringing all risk management functions together to establish sustainable outcomes.
- Support the CISO on the IT compliance use case by providing an up-to-date IT inventory and regulatory controls to help run regular compliance checks
- Support the risk manager on a Business Continuity Planning use case by providing a ready-to-use process and application inventory to base business impact analysis upon
- Data governance: EA helps understand the context in which data is used and for what purposes (applications and processes) to improve data quality and ensure data compliance
The importance of Enterprise architecture tools
The two primary tools used for corporate architectural planning are Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint. However, these tools often cannot 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. Enterprise layers speed up routine tasks that take up the architect's time and provide 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.
The organization can share these results 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-generation EA solutions also accelerate business decision-making using advanced algorithms that automatically analyze the content of the EA repository.
These algorithms provide data-driven insights, such as recommendations for application rationale or conflict detection for technology obsolescence management.
Building an Enterprise Architecture practice may be complex and time-consuming. Enterprise Architecture's scope is vast, and many architects try to boil the ocean too fast. They struggle to demonstrate value to their management and end up unable to renew their budget.
To establish an enterprise architecture approach that quickly provides value to stakeholders. (e.g., visibility on IT assets and business capabilities, first impact analysis...) it is best to follow a pragmatic, use-case-based approach and focus on tangible outcomes while developing a solid foundation to support business transformations.
Following a pragmatic approach based on use cases and focusing on tangible outcomes is the recommended way to set up an enterprise architecture practice. It 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.
Answers to frequently asked questions
Enterprise architecture is a strategic approach to managing and aligning an organization's IT assets and aligning them with business objectives. It is essential because it gives organizations a clear view of their technology infrastructure, enabling them to make informed decisions about their IT investments.
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