Answers to the Most Common Questions about Enterprise Architecture

It’s safe to say that Enterprise Architecture (EA) can be an intimidating business topic for newcomers.

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What is Enterprise Architecture?

A question that we have fortunately just answered in our guide to the benefits of enterprise architecture tools

We define enterprise architecture as the following: 

Enterprise architecture is a comprehensive, strategic discipline aimed to give structure to an enterprise, or organization. A good enterprise architecture creates a sustainable organization that is able to achieve its current business objectives. 

As you can think of architecture being the blueprints, processes, and management of a building, so enterprise architecture accomplishes the same for an enterprise - it is the mechanism through which strategy is connected with execution. Or at least, that is what an effective EA practice can deliver; many organizations have not yet achieved such a large-scale function. 

Meanwhile, Gartner defines Enterprise Architecture as following:

Enterprise architecture (EA) is a discipline for proactively and holistically leading enterprise responses to disruptive forces by identifying and analyzing the execution of change toward desired business vision and outcomes

The purpose of Enterprise Architecture is to allow an organization to create a digital map of all tangible and intangible components to its business.  This map can then be used for all testing, risk management, and future planning, helping to define the transition states that will be reached by the implementation of specific projects. 

A Comparison of the 4 Main Enterprise Architecture Frameworks

In order to accurately map IT and Business systems, architects need a common ‘language’ to describe components, artifacts, and processes, which is where enterprise architecture frameworks come in. Describing any of these frameworks in detail would take thousands of words, so this will be a very high level overview. 

The 4 frameworks are: 

  1. The Open Group Enterprise Architecture Framework (TOGAF) 
  2. Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA) 
  3. The Zachman Framework 
  4. The Gartner Enterprise Architecture Framework

However, at this point in time it is more accurate to talk of the 2 main frameworks, as the vast majority of EA departments will use TOGAF or Federal Enterprise Architecture. 

TOGAF is the most popular framework in use, developed by The Open Group since 1995. It is currently on version 9.2. The framework is developed collaboratively, taking in inputs from over 300 Architecture Forum members who represent some of the world's leading companies and organizations. TOGAF divide the architecture into four categories, Business, Application, Data, and Technology Architecture. Each one of them describes a specific part of the organization. The most widely used architectural process, the TOGAF ADM (Architecture Development Method) provides the mechanism to move from the enterprise-generic to the enterprise-specific architecture and solution(s). TOGAF is available for free and can be implemented by any business.  

Federal Enterprise Architecture is a framework for EA by the US federal government, designed for government enterprises rather than private like the other frameworks. Version 2 of the FEA was published in 2013. As you can imagine, what sets this apart from the other frameworks is its intended use; businesses will not get as much out of it compared to government organizations but it has a comprehensive taxonomy like Zachman and an architectural process like TOGAF.  

The Zachman Framework was created by John Zachman for IBM in 1980. Zachman essentially invented the concept of enterprise architecture when he published "A Framework for Information Systems Architecture” in 1987, and he went on to describe the framework he used in that paper and a subsequent update in 1992. It was the first popular cross-disciplinary, with influence extending far beyond IT. Zachman’s framework is still maintained today and available for implementation, though it has largely been superseded by TOGAF. 

Gartner's Enterprise Architecture Framework, otherwise known as the Gartner Methodology, is quite different to the other frameworks and in some sense is not really a framework at all; it doesn’t define architectural artefacts or provide a reference model. The methodology is available to Gartner customers or to be implemented by its consultants. Gartner’s Enterprise Architecture is about unifying Business Owners, Information Specialists, and the Technology Implementers behind a common vision that drives business value. We don’t need to document what we are throwing out, the focus for the Enterprise Architecture must start where the organization is going, not the current state.  

How to Create an Enterprise Architecture?

As with the previous question, this is one that could take up an entire article by itself. “Creating an enterprise architecture” presumably means creating an enterprise architecture department – you'd not realize much value with a one-off – which entails human resources and business organization, while the execution would then involve mostly IT and the necessary skills to implement. There’s not a quick and easy method to have an effective enterprise architecture.  

Naturally, this is an area that Orbus is specialized in helping. To drastically simplify the process, an effective enterprise architecture requires people with the right skills having access to the right resources. The right skills can come from training and certifications, or a firm could hire consultants to guide the entire process.  

If you prefer to focus on research and slowly build up, we’ve got resources to help you there as well. The Definitive Enterprise Architecture Blueprint should cover everything you need to know, while Five Steps to Designing a Fully Optimized Enterprise Architecture will break down the process into easily digestible steps. 

The right resources mean having a way to properly implement your chosen framework, which will normally mean an Enterprise Architecture tool. iServer has been named as Gartner Peer Insights Customers’ Choice for EA Tools for an unprecedented 4 years running, so it is safe to say that it is one of the best options available to manage your enterprise architecture. 

Why is Enterprise Architecture Important?

The importance of enterprise architecture will depend a lot on what the organization does with their EA. Orbus have found as many as 28 different use cases for iServer across our customer base, and even that figure is not likely to encompass every activity. Some enterprises may simply use their enterprise architecture to reduce IT costs, but for others it can have transformative impacts. At its simplest, we can describe Enterprise Architecture as a map to navigate rapid organizational change.

In fact, the prime use of enterprise architecture is to drive digital transformation. Planning changes over short and long periods, predicting the impacts of changes, gathering stakeholder views, and executing change are all possible through the correct application of EA. In general, EA will make firms more agile, able to react quickly to external events and deal with shocks. Indeed, perhaps the best reason to have enterprise architecture has been revealed through the coronavirus, which has forced huge changes in the ways that organizations do business in rapid time. Those firms that could very quickly pivot to working from home and e-commerce were left in much better shape than others. 

What is Business Architecture/Application Architecture? 

Within the field of Enterprise Architecture are a host of sub architectures that represent different parts of the organization. As mentioned above, TOGAF divide their framework into 4 areas, Business, Application, Data, and Technology, while Orbus list 7 possible areas for architecture, including ApplicationBusinessDataProcessSecuritySolution, and Infrastructure.  

Once you know that, understanding each individual area is fairly simple. For example, application architecture is the process of defining the framework of an organization’s application solutions against business requirements. Business architecture is very similar, but for a business’s capabilities instead of applications. Different organizations will naturally have different requirements and may choose to focus their EA efforts onto any of these sub areas. 

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