What is Enterprise Architecture?

Enterprise Architecture describes the structure of an enterprise. A well-managed architecture results in an effective and sustainable enterprise
internal lifecycle and business capability model examples

Enterprise Architecture Tools, Software and Platforms

Enterprise Architecture (EA) is an increasingly important department for large and medium organizations, but it's an area that has typically relied on having the right software to manage its complexity. This article will explore the enterprise architecture tools (or enterprise architecture software, or enterprise architecture platforms, or even enterprise architecture applications) that help architects to manage and improve their EA functions.

If you’re not familiar with enterprise architecture, a good place to start is with our “What is Enterprise Architecture” page. For the shortest possible explanation, EA describes the structure of an enterprise, particularly the IT capabilities, which enables architects to help guide digital transformation efforts.


What is an Enterprise Architecture Tool?

Enterprise Architecture tools assist in the creation, development and management of enterprise architectures. A number of businesses offer enterprise architecture software, including Orbus Software, with the cloud hosted iServer365 and the on-premise iServer tools.


Capability Maturity
Enterprise Architecture Pillar page

Given the range of tasks that an EA department can take on, having the right application can help architects be a lot more efficient. What does an EA tool typically do? Naturally this will vary somewhat depending on different tools, but we can summarize a few common functions.

First is simply data storage. iServer365 and similar tools will have a central repository to store enterprise data, keeping it all in one location and widely accessible to architects and other stakeholders. This is often referred to as a “Single source of truth”. In other words, the central repository is the last word on enterprise information. If you need to determine an application’s end of license or the hardware available to a specific office, the central repository will provide the definitive answer.

Central repositories enable collaboration. People from across the organization can access files, contribute more data and stay informed of company operations, thanks to this pre-defined structure. Many enterprise architecture tools transitioned to cloud offerings due to the advantages this would provide for collaboration with the repository.

An important part of Enterprise architecture is adherence to certain standards and frameworks – such as the TOGAF framework or ArchiMate notation method. EA Platforms will typically support a range of popular standards and frameworks. For example, iServer365 provides support for the following out of the box:

Similarly, integration with other applications is common. iServer365, for example, is closely integrated with Microsoft 365, allowing architects to work within native Office applications while still having the benefits of a fully governed, shared repository. EA tools will also be able to integrate with CMDBs, project management tools and workflow management tools.

Integrations and Interoperability

Analysis is another key feature; with all the data that is available, offering a way for architects to provide insight, make informed decisions, and present them to stakeholders, is very important. Hence, iServer365 can create and display information at a level accessible to all. Technical users can ask specific questions “What Applications are affected by this out of date standard?” Business users can draw diagram-based conclusions “What will be critical in the future? Where do I need to invest?” Executive users can query the data in easy to interpret Business Intelligence dashboards.

This brief list doesn’t encapsulate everything an EA tool can do, but it hits the core uses. Collecting data in a single place; allowing everyone to access, add and use that data; integrating with other applications in the enterprise; and finally giving powerful analysis and presentation features to the wider organization.

Integrations and Interoperability

What are the benefits of Enterprise Architecture Tools

We now know what enterprise architecture software is, and what it can do, but that doesn’t necessarily give an organization any reason to use one. There should be a clear way of defining benefits that you can get from any tool, project or investment.

What you can get out of an EA tool will inevitably depend on what you put into it, particularly if you opt for different uses. If you’re using enterprise architecture to help smooth your cloud migrations, you’ll see the benefits in your cloud applications, and if not, you won’t. Below, we’ll look at some of the more general benefits, as well as what the more popular use cases can bring:

 

A single source of truth

Thanks to central repositories, architects can work on projects confident that information and analyses are all accurate without any variance across the team. This makes it easy to share models and other data within a team, while ensuring that everything is accurate and up to date.

 

Governance

EA initiatives can involve large teams with input from dozens or hundreds of stakeholders. As well as providing a single source for all the data that this will involve, a central repository also ensures that the format and notation of this data is carefully governed. Standardization also allows for easy comparisons.

 

Collection and Validation of Data

Since the central repository can collate data from all users, from an interface (such as MS Teams, or a MS Form) that they are familiar with, input from an architect is not necessarily needed, where a manual process previously existed. Nonetheless, architects can still check to ensure validity of data, as it conforms to the predefined standards in the same repository.

 

Re-usability

Modern enterprise architecture frameworks will rely on a number of building blocks that should be re-used throughout. However, manual methods of creating and using these blocks will not allow for them to be re-used where necessary, but since EA tools can store building blocks in their central repositories, this is no longer an issue. Building blocks such as applications, processes, requirements and org-units can be reused across diagrams and documents. Duplicate items can be identified and rationalized, and changes made to a building block in one diagram will propagate across all other diagrams in which it appears.

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  • Superior Agility

The modern business world is one which rewards fast movers. Being able to capitalize on opportunities, or avoid disasters, has been a key feature of the most successful forms of the 21st century. Very large firms can struggle to keep up with nimble start-ups since their size makes any change take time.  Enterprise architecture is about delivering change, and an EA tool will supercharge that process to allow for much faster reaction times.

  • Buy-in from Stakeholders

Due to the scope and complexity of enterprise architecture, gaining an understanding of initiatives can be very difficult for less involved stakeholders. Where there is a lack of understanding, that will also mean stakeholders are much less likely to support projects. As EA tools greatly simplify the presentation of often complex architecture processes, the barrier to understanding becomes much lower, which in turn means stakeholders can buy-in to a project quicker. What is more, the presentation, analysis and insights from reporting features of tools will allow architects to present more user friendly and intuitive results on demand.

  • Handle complicated MetaModels whilst offering flexibility to simplify to your business needs

Though powerful, the likes of TOGAF and ArchiMate can at times be complicated and difficult to implement. As EA tools come with support for these models built in, the pressure to implement is often greatly reduced.

  • Avoid redundancy

This is essentially a combination of having a single source of truth with reusable blocks. Since everything is in one place, architects will not end up gathering the same data or performing the same analysis, while there will be no time wasted recreating diagrams manually, which already exist within the repository.

  • Powerful Collaboration

EA Tools are at their heart collaborative applications. By enabling every architect and business stakeholder to access, read and potentially modify the same data, collaboration becomes far simpler for an organization. As already mentioned, architects can share building blocks, business stakeholders can easily search, view or contribute to information in the repository, all in commonly used collaboration platforms such as SharePoint sites, Teams, Confluence etc.

  • Relationships between elements

Relationships between architecture elements, such as processes, applications, business services, and organizational entities, can be defined, managed navigated and analyzed in the architecture repository, providing a basis for meaningful impact analysis and informed business decisions. This is a huge time saver compared to making manual links, while also being more accurate.

  • Auto generation of reports and presentations

Auto generating documents helps achieve a high level of consistency by generating live, dynamic documents straight from a central repository – quickly and effectively, keeping in line with organizational branding. 

  • Analysis

EA tools remove the pain and potential error of manual analysis, while also allowing for far better presentation and visualization, with stakeholders having the ability to view, compare, analyze the IT & Business landscape from anywhere.

What An EA Tool Can Deliver

Once you have all the advantages of an EA tool, how will it help your organization? Here are some of the biggest advantages:

  • Reduce Technology Costs

One of the more common use cases for enterprise architecture is application portfolio management, which enables organizations to take control of their technology landscape. Thanks to the central repository, it is easy for architects to identify outdated, duplicate, unused or unnecessary applications and remove them.

  • Eliminate Data Silos

One of the most important aspects of having a single source of truth is the ability to eliminate data silos, where important business data becomes isolated and hidden from the views of wider stakeholders. The single source of truth ensures everything is in one place and silos cannot be established.

  • Gain Visibility of Cybersecurity Risks

An understanding of your technology and application portfolios helps to expose potential vulnerabilities and risks. By identifying problems ahead of time, organizations can prevent cyberattacks before they occur.

  • Make Better Decisions

A mature enterprise architecture is intended to be a strategic asset, and EA tools make this particularly effective. With complete oversight of all enterprise data and powerful visualizations & analysis tools, it becomes easy for decision makers to make smarter, faster decisions.

  • Manage Technical Debt

Technical debt has gone beyond the development world to afflict entire IT departments, as short term infrastructure or application decisions pile up. The portfolio management tools of enterprise architecture platforms make it easy for organizations to address technical debt, highlighting capability gaps for infrastructure, functional duplication, or other symptoms of tech debt.

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Things you can do to prepare for Tool Adoption

There are a few questions about tool rollout that seem obvious when you've seen it done dozens of times, but which can often blindside an organization that is implementing a tool for the first time. There are some decisions that always need to be made when rolling out a modeling tool.

Summary: when you’re planning to adopt a modeling tool, there are a few things that you can do to prepare. They’ll help you in the adoption, but they’ll also help you in the evaluation. They are: 

  • Check what formats other tools might have to allow import or export of data
  • Decide how you will treat legacy data
  • Identify what skillsets you’ll need to acquire
  • Identify the roles around the tool
  • Decide what style guidelines you’ll adopt
  • Decide how your operating processes will change to use the tool.

We have identified import from, and exports to, other tools as the first question because in our experience it's often the area that seems the simplest, but turns out not to be. Most tools have some ability to import data, and to export data. All well and good... but in what format? XML, you say? Um, great, but how is the XML structured? Do you have a Schema (it can be surprising how often the answer is no). In practice, identifying what precise data is available, and more importantly, in what precise format. It can be a case of booking time with one single expert (from the vendor, or some guru within the IT department), who like most specialist SMEs is often extremely hard to get time from.

Given that import and export capabilities are often part of the pitch of a modeling tool, failing to get this information ahead of time leads to the following conversation:

Organization: Can you import from {other tool}?

Vendor 1: Sure, we can import from XML and Excel

Vendor 2: Sure we have an API.

Vendor 3: Sure we have a connector for {other tool} (and the vendor rep has no idea what that connector allows and how hard amending it would be).

And the problem with these three responses is that an estimate of costs without precise formats is going to be an educated guess. Any vendor representative who gives a firm estimate without an interface format is basically guessing – not a good recipe for precise project estimation.

So, import of data. But a related question is whether to import existing information. Prior to tool adoption most work will have been done in the classic EVP triad – Excel, Visio and Powerpoint. Recognizing this, most tools will import from Visio or Excel. The question is, is it even worth it? If you have an excellent diagram of which datastores are in which datacenters, but the diagram is 3 years out of date and 30% incorrect, the value of importing it and making it available becomes dubious.

Summary

Enterprise Architecture tools have become essential aids to businesses that seek to develop mature enterprise architectures. With the complexity of modern enterprises and the challenges involved in EA, it is vital that architects have all the support they need to work efficiently.

We’ve laid out the advantages that these EA tools can bring, including links to direct business benefits. We’ve also discussed the process of tool adoption, and some tips for preparation.

One area we haven’t addressed is the different tools themselves. Naturally, we would recommend our own tool, the cloud enabled iServer365, which has received Gartner Peer Insights Customers’ Choice award an unprecedented 5 times. But if you would like to see information about the other tools, check out these tool comparisons provided by third party firm, [name].

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