9 years, 3 months ago

How IT-centrism creeps into enterprise-architecture

Link: http://weblog.tetradian.com/2012/01/30/how-it-centrism-creeps-into-ea/?utm_source=rss&utm_medium=rss&utm_campaign=how-it-centrism-creeps-into-ea

A kind of follow-up to the previous post ‘IT-oriented versus IT-centric‘, this one starts from a Tweet from the Open Group’s official TOGAF Twitter-account:

  • togaf_r: TOGAF Resource: The TOGAF 9.1 changes overview and 6 other slide decks are now at http://t.co/Arm40mgA (free PDF) #ogsfo

The link points to the Open Group’s ‘public resources’ website for TOGAF (The Open Group Architecture Framework), which includes the respective slidedecks.

One of those slidedecks is ‘TOGAF Version 9.1 Management Overview‘ [PDF] – which turns out to be an interesting illustration of exactly how IT-centrism creeps into enterprise-architecture…

We’ll start with slide 18 (lower part of p.9):

What is an Enterprise?
• A collection of organizations that share a common set of goals
– Government agency
– Part of a corporation
– Corporation
• Large corporations may comprise multiple enterprises
• May be an “extended enterprise” including partners, suppliers and customers

They don’t give the source for that definition, but it’s one I’ve seen elsewhere – I think it’s used in FEAF, for example. Importantly, this definition explicitly does not regard ‘organisation’ and ‘enterprise’ as synonyms. In my view it doesn’t go far enough in that separation, but at least it’s clear that there is a difference, and that ‘the enterprise’ often extends well beyond the boundaries of ‘the organisation’. In short, so far so good.

Next, look at slide 19 (upper part of p.10):

What is an Architecture?
• An Architecture is the fundamental organization of something, embodied in:
– its components,
– their relationships to each other and the environment,
– and the principles governing its design and evolution.

As they say on the slide, that definition is adapted from ANSI/IEEE Standard 1471-2000, another well-known and much-used reference. Again, so far so good.

But note what happens in slide 20 (lower part of p.10), which purports to bring together those previous two definitions:

What is Enterprise Architecture?
Enterprise Architecture is:
• The organizing logic for business processes and IT infrastructure reflecting the integration and standardization requirements of the firm’s operating model. [MIT Center for Information Systems Research] • A conceptual blueprint that defines the structure and operation of an organization. The intent of an enterprise architecture is to determine how an organization can most effectively achieve its current and future objectives. [SearchCIO.com]

Which for me brings up an instant response of  ”Huh? Now wait a minute?”… The SearchCIO definition would make reasonable sense if it wasn’t arbitrarily constrained only to the view of the organisation – not the enterprise, as per that previous definition of ‘enterprise’. And in the MIT definition it’s constrained even further, with an unexplained emphasis on IT-infrastructure and “integration and standardization” – which doesn’t make sense at all.

One slide further on, and without any explanation or justification, we’re suddenly down in classic TOGAF territory, where the foundation for everything is IT-infrastructure, and where ‘Business Architecture’ is ‘anything not-IT that might affect IT’. Oops…

And by the time we get to slide 22 (lower part of p.11), we’re presented with this:

Why Enterprise Architecture?
• Effective management and exploitation of information through IT is key to business success
• Good information management = competitive advantage
• Current IT systems do not really meet the needs of business
– Fragmented, duplicated
– Poorly understood
– Not responsive to change
• Investment in Information Technology
– Focussed on system maintenance
– Tactical developments rather than a strategic plan

All I can say to that is “You what???”… To be blunt, what has any of this got to do with enterprise-architecture, in terms of the definitions of either ‘enterprise’ or ‘architecture’ above? “Some but not much”, is the short answer. To illustrate the point, let’s deconstruct some of those assertions above:

–  ”Effective management and exploitation of information through IT is key to business success” – is it? Can you prove this? Given this arbitrary assertion about the importance of IT, can you show the connection – if any – to either ‘enterprise’ or ‘architecture’? And what do you mean by ‘IT’ anyway?

– “Good information management = competitive advantage” – possibly. But what about government and other organisations for whom ‘competitive advantage’ has little or no priority or point? And what about all the other non-IT issues – such as respect and trust – that might have far greater impacts on ‘competitive advantage’?

– “Current IT systems do not really meet the needs of business” – so what? The same is true of many other business-systems, such as the structure and design of core business models – which, architecturally speaking, would usually need to come before any fix-up of outdated IT-systems.

– “Investment in Information Technology [maintenance focus, tactical]” – again, yes, we know, but so what? The same is likely to be true about almost every other aspect of the enterprise – especially in multi-partner enterprises.

So let’s again be blunt about this: that slide above is best dismissed as mere marketing-puff – a sales pitch for large consultancies who want to sell ‘IT-rationalisation’ programmes to clean up the IT-mess that in all probability they themselves had created in the first place… In practice, there’s so much that’s missing from that ‘Why Enterprise Architecture?’ – such arbitrary and unjustifiable constraints on scope – that it really is all but meaningless. It describes only a tiny subset of the actual scope of ‘the architecture of the enterprise’, but somehow seems to purport that this is the whole. Which would be laughable if it wasn’t such a bad joke – or such a destructive one.

In other words, somewhere between slide 19 and slide 22, we’ve gone from enterprise and business, to a largely-spurious attempt at business-justification for one specific subset of enterprise IT-architecture. The remainder of ‘the architecture of the enterprise’ – especially about anything not-IT – has been erased from the story.

Which is why the TOGAF-style EA story just does not make sense to anyone who’s not already embedded and wedded to an IT-centric view of the world.

If you want to see how and why enterprise-architecture is still such a darned hard ‘sell’ to just about anyone in business, all you need to do is read that ‘Management Overview’. And quietly weep…

Surely by now we can do better than this? Please?