Orbus explain the limitations of EA frameworks and help you think about how to architect a more flexible future for enterprise architecture
The short answer is no. EA frameworks are outdated, limit planning and arguably distract from real change. Great, let’s go home!
Of course, it’s not actually that simple. First, that actually means framework choices can be really impactful. Second, just because being a die-hard TOGAF or Zachman fan is limiting, those frameworks still have something to teach you. If you’re going to break the framework rules, you need to understand those rules in the first place. What’s more, abandoning frameworks is only really possible if you have the tools in place to take a more flexible approach.
Here, we will explain the limitations of EA frameworks, explore the pros and cons of some of the most popular EA frameworks, and then help you think about how to move past a restrictive approach towards EA methodology and architect a more flexible future for enterprise architecture. Let’s go!
Suggested reading: For a detailed rundown of what good EA planning looks like, check out our updated — The Definitive Enterprise Architecture Blueprint.
An EA framework establishes common practices for the creation, interpretation and analysis of business, IT and application architecture. Basically, it’s a way to standardize your approach to EA, which is useful because it:
In theory, EA frameworks help you develop, communicate and action your EA plans. Depending on the nature of those plans and your business, different frameworks will be better suited to help you succeed.
EA frameworks are theoretical. More often than not, they focus on planning, conceptualization and rationalization. “That’s the point of EA!”, we hear you say. Well, if that’s you… you’re wrong. Planning is an important part of EA, but the point of EA is to improve organization capabilities, efficiency and communication.
The structure of an EA framework is helpful, but it also has the potential to encourage two of the worst tendencies in enterprise architecture:
EA’s reputation for being an Ivory Tower exists for a reason.1 EA architects have historically spent a lot of time developing unrealistic plans that are detached from the reality on the ground. EA frameworks contribute to this by focusing on the art of planning rather than the art of action.
Like EA frameworks themselves, the analysis of EA frameworks is often entirely speculative. It judges frameworks at face value based on what they say about themselves. So, what's the reality? There are three big ones worth talking about, and a few honorable mentions.
Developed by John Zachman for IBM in the 1980s, The Zachman Framework is kind of the granddaddy of all EA frameworks — although this has probably been overstated. Zachman has a lot of similarities with older BSP (Business System Processing) ideas that it was developed to work alongside.2
The Zachman Framework centers around a two-dimensional, 30-cell taxonomy of architectural terms. Over time, this original matrix has been updated and expanded. However, the framework remains focused on the definition of terms that can be used to direct planning, communication and strategy. Zachman’s popular because it’s relatively simple to use. However, The practical value of the framework is far harder to define.
Pros of the Zachman Framework:
Cons of the Zachman Framework:
The bottom line: The Zachman Framework will help you standardize language, contextualize planning and evaluate how different levels of your EA plan relate to each other. However, it can lead to endless planning cycles and won’t directly help you put plans into action.
Zachman might be the oldest framework, but TOGAF is the most popular and largest. Developed by The Open Group since 1995, and currently on version 9.2, the framework is grown collaboratively and takes inputs from over 300 Architecture Forum members who represent some of the world's leading companies and organizations.
TOGAF provides a step-by-step solution for end-to-end EA, which… if possible, would be fantastic. The problem with TOGAF is that you can’t really systematically walk your way through an enterprise architecture project. Generally, it’s important to prioritize EA components that are more important at the time. This is lived out in the reality that many certified TOGAF-practitioners treat it as more of a label than a true set of guidelines. 3
Pros of TOGAF:
Cons of TOGAF:
The bottom line: TOGAF is the de facto EA framework, kind of a framework for frameworks, providing a huge body of knowledge about architecting. There is a lot of good stuff buried in TOGAF, but the people who need it most (new EA architects) will have the hardest time sifting through its structure to find the right thing. Luckily, there is a multi-million dollar industry around selling TOGAF training, which you can purchase… if you want.
Federal Enterprise Architecture is an EA framework developed by the US federal government. This delivers a framework specifically designed for large government applications, rather than private-sector. With that said, it’s been adopted by the private sector as well. Version 2 of the FEA was published in 2013.
Realistically, FEAF shares a lot with both Zachman and TOGAF, along with older BPS methodologies. It helps define terms and processes, but focuses heavily on planning and documentation.
Pros of FEAF:
Cons of FEAF:
The bottom line: FEAF is a good more modern alternative. However, it has simply duplicated many of the issues with traditional frameworks, and needs to be approached with caution.
The list of EA frameworks just goes on. Two important honorable mentions are:
The list doesn’t stop there. Beyond the historic examples already addressed (BSP and C4ISR), there is the NIST EA Model and Stephen Spewak’s famous 1993 book, Enterprise Architecture Planning (EAP). Then there are other government models (e.g. the Australian Government Architecture Reference Model) and open resources like the Business Architecture Body of Knowledge (BizBoK) — along with variations on all of these.
In one word, the answer is “flexibility”. There are several parts to this.
When it comes to developing an effective EA methodology, you need to start by thinking about you. This is the only way to make sure that what you are focusing on actually matters to the business. Ask yourself:
You then need to match your answers to these questions with a strategy that will get you to the right conclusion.
The whole point of moving beyond EA frameworks is to stop endless planning and more rapidly effect positive change across your organization. The longer it takes (on an ongoing basis) to capture, analyze and communicate enterprise data, the more likely you are to be planning with obsolete information. This is exactly what you want to avoid.
iServer365 takes the very best of EA frameworks and combines it with Orbus Software's years of experience delivering EA projects to enable every client to leverage their enterprise architecture for the most value.
Fundamentally, a flexible way of working requires
flexible tools. EA software can free you from endless planning, but only
if you approach it with the right mentality.
For experienced architects, it can help to find the common factors between EA frameworks. This can then form a foundation from which to create your own framework or choose the most appropriate existing framework for your organization.
Most EA frameworks are about helping you structure and standardize planning in order to think about information and its relationship to your organization. Although different frameworks address these concepts differently, there are eight basic categories that EA frameworks help you define. By focusing on this underlying framework, you can better conceptualize what EA frameworks are helping you achieve, and apply it to the specifics of your organization.
Although we started this by saying that EA frameworks don’t matter, they can actually matter quite a bit… they just sometimes make things worse. Realistically, where they create the largest problems is where people take them too rigidly. Using them appropriately actually requires devaluing their importance.
Use EA frameworks to develop a shared language, think about problems, and learn advanced tricks that will help you grow. Don’t use them to replace your ability to think and plan what’s right for your organization. And, whatever you do, don’t fall into the trap of EA planning for the sake of planning. EA software provides the visibility and flexibility needed to put EA frameworks in their place and make a difference to the business. Find out for yourself and get a free demo of iServer365 today.