What is Enterprise Architecture and did it really die?

The recent year or so have offered amble blogosphere discussion about what Enterprise Architecture is, whether it died and who to blame. It appears that John Zachman kicked off the debate back in 2009 with his blog post Yes, “Enterprise Architecture is Relative” BUT it is not Arbitrary, where he claims that Enterprise Architecture is dying due to the extensive overuse of ‘architecture’ for everything in IT. This generated a very extensive debate on Linkedin (summarised here) which also extended into what Enterprise Architecture is and what Enterprise Architects do. The debate does seem to get lost in roles and responsibilities, models, and fuzzy terminology.

Rather than offering another summary or yet another random definition, I find it useful to think about an Enterprise, as the combination of an organisation and its ability to use IT – and doing two things to achieve this: planning and delivery. The combination is the above matrix. Organisations use Information Technology in order to achieve an advantage that otherwise wouldn’t be possible – an advantage that might enable the organisation to reduce cost, deliver new products and services or re-design the organisation itself (to create other advantages).

Organisations’ IT deal with:

  • The planning of IT generally consists of two types: 1) a strategy for the IT systems, e.g., technology choice, the roles of each system, etc, and; 2) the management of the portfolio of IT related activities such as projects and operational support.
  • The delivery of IT is the delivery of actual IT systems and the execution of IT projects.

Organisations’ ability to use IT deals how the organisation itself needs to be structured and behave in order to realise the potential benefits offered by a set of available IT:

  • The planning of organisational IT ability covers the identification of appropriate governance models, or organisational capabilities such knowledge management, social architecture or a unique organisational structure.
  • The delivery of organisational IT ability covers what management literature label as organisational change management or transformation.

Now if one then takes the view that Enterprise Architecture is all of the matrix, then EA is far from dead – most organisations would be doing this to some degree.

But if one views architecture as ‘the fundamental organization of a system‘ (as defined by IEEE’s standard for the description of IT systems), then maybe EA is dying because there is so much more to an Enterprise than its fundamental organisation – in other words, EA is dying because the architecture analogy is a poor analogy for today’s Enterprises?

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