6 years, 7 months ago

The identity of enterprise architecture

Link: http://weblog.tetradian.com/2014/08/27/the-identity-of-enterprise-architecture/

Anyone who doubts that enterprise-architecture has an identity-problem, should take a look at this wonderfully poignant address-slip that did eventually reach enterprise-architect Julius Schaffer at the University of Adelaide:

Nope, enterprise-architecture is not the same as civil-architecture; nor is it building-maintenance; nor is it anything much to do with the infrastructure-office – whatever that might be.

But nor, however, should we misdescribe EA in the way that this person did, in a current thread on one of the LinkedIn groups:

The fact is EA is a specialism within IT.{don’t you just love acronyms /or not}.

No, enterprise-architecture is most definitely not merely “a specialism within IT”: that specialism, as Peter Murchland pointed out a couple of posts later in the same thread, would be more properly called EITA, or ‘enterprise-wide-IT-architecture’, which is a related discipline to EA, but with a much narrower scope. Which misdescription is a darn nuisance, because, to quote another person on that thread:

The EITA thing sure does muddy the EA waters a bit.

More than just a bit, actually: it often muddies the water into utter impenetrability. And, like solution-architecture, EITA is not really ‘part of’ EA – another common mistake, repeated by yet another person in that same thread – but instead is kind of encompassed within the overall scope of EA, but in a different way, somewhat as described in the ‘Governance is not an end in itself‘ post.

To understand what enterprise-architecture really is and does, just swap the two terms around: enterprise-architecture is the architecture of the enterprise. Literally. The architecture of the enterprise. Where ‘enterprise’ is usually much, much larger in scope than merely the scope of the organisation for which we’re developing the architecture:

The role of enterprise-architecture within the organisation is pretty straightforward: it’s tasked with supporting a theme that ultimately is the responsibility of everyone in the entire shared-enterprise – that things work better when they work together, on purpose. Hence, yes, EAs will develop models and diagrams and roadmaps, and do governance-work and guide many, many conversations between various stakeholders and ‘concerned parties’: but the architecture itself still always remains everyone’s responsibility. Much like health-and-safety is, for example, or security, or quality, or financial-probity.

Yet because of that bewretched confusion between EITA (which really is IT-only, for the most part) and real EA (which definitely needs to be about much more than just the organisation’s IT), we’ve reached a point where we almost dare not use the ‘A’-word – ‘architecture’ – at all. Especially if it means that our mail gets redirected at random to the civil-engineers, then the building-maintenance crew, then the plumbers and the cable-guys, and then finally the IT-architects, who might perhaps deign to pass it on to us. Yeah, it’s a mess…

So perhaps it really is time now to give up on this, and use some alternative term instead. Some folks push for ‘business transformation‘: but that might well be misunderstood as applying solely to commercial businesses, whereas our work applies just as much to government, to not-for-profits, and other non-commercial contexts. Some folks push for ‘business-architecture‘ as the all-encompassing superset: but that brings us back into much the same mess with the ‘A’-word again, and in any case business-architecture proper is merely another domain-architecture, much like EITA – in this case, the literal ‘architecture of the business of the business’. To me those kinds of alternatives just don’t work – or at the least don’t work well enough for what we need.

One possible alternative I’ve heard recently, though – from Peter Murchland first, I believe? – is enterprise awareness: our work as EAs is to help the organisation build a better awareness of itself, and of the broader shared-enterprise within which it operates – and from there, develop better awareness of its options, and appropriate actions in respect of those options.

And we could still call it ‘EA’, too. :-)

Whatcha think? – comments, anyone?