What is Enterprise Architecture?

Enterprise Architecture (EA) is a rigorous approach for describing the structure of an enterprise. A well-managed enterprise architecture results in an effective and sustainable enterprise.

A good enterprise architecture creates a sustainable organization that is able to achieve its current business objectives. EA also safeguards for the future, and enables the execution of strategic change by mapping the best, most cost-effective way to reach the desired future state.

EA can be regarded in three ways:

  • A Discipline. It is the way of thinking about the structure of an enterprise.
  • A Process. There are processes for architecting an enterprise, covering how architectures are created, how they change and evolve, and how architectures are managed.
  • A set of work products. A set of models and diagrams that represent and describe the structure of an enterprise.

Developing and sustaining an enterprise architecture is a complex process, involving many stakeholders and decision processes. TOGAF ® is a popular enterprise architecture framework. TOGAF ® helps by documenting the enterprise architecture discipline, process, and work products.

By using a standard framework, organizations can develop an enterprise architecture that is consistent, reflects the needs of stakeholders, employs best practice, and gives due consideration to current requirements.

The above paragraphs do a good job of giving a technical description of EA. At the same time, they do a very poor job of giving a layman an understanding of EA. That’s because, perhaps more than anything, EA is baffling. Consider the following diagram from The Open Group, developers of the TOGAF:


Enterprise Architecture Wiki Page - TOGAF framework graphic


This is ISO 40210, a standard which explains basic architecture concepts. It is also one of the most confusing diagrams ever made, in which every node links to every other node both ways and we are somehow supposed to distinguish between a view, a viewpoint and a library viewpoint. Ultimately, enterprise architecture is not a concept that can be picked up from a brief scan, not just because it is complicated but also because the way in which it can be used will vary from enterprise to enterprise. Nonetheless, in the following artile we will do our best to delve into the different applications of EA, why companies would want to make use of it, what an”EA framework” is, and how companies can develop their own enterprise architecture.


What is Enterprise Architecture used for?

There are hundreds of possible uses for enterprise architecture, but at its core enterprise architecture is about building an abstract representation of a business’s IT assets. Much as a real architect provides the blueprint for a building, so an enterprise architect provides a kind of blueprint for a business. However, where a blueprint is typically “one and done”, an enterprise architecture will need to continually evolve as the business does, both reflecting change and helping to plan it.

From this representation, an enterprise can begin the process of aligning the architecture of a business – which essentially describes the IT capabilities – with the strategy of the business, bridging the gap between strategy and IT. Inevitably, this will involve change, as an enterprise tries to ensure that its information technology is capable of meeting the needs of the business strategy. Thus, the management of digital transformation is perhaps the ultimate goal of enterprise architecture.

As EA has evolved over the years, the scope has increased. Architectures are now likely to include all business assets, such that IT systems, technologies or applications can be matched to specific locations and people. Even aspects like business processes, strategies and capabilities are included in modern frameworks. Over time, EA has moved beyond its IT beginnings to now genuinely encompass the entire enterprise. Some experienced architects even argue that the failure to move EA beyond IT and to the wider business is a common failure point for EA.

However, it is important to note that “enterprise” in enterprise architecture does not have to refer to the entirety of a large business. An enterprise can be a governmental organization or NGO. An enterprise can be a specific business unit within a larger corporation. Enterprise architecture can even apply to a specific project within a firm. Naturally, the wider the scope of EA, the more benefits can be realized, but that doesn’t mean that smaller projects are useless.


The Benefits of Enterprise Architecture

EA is a varied field, with a wide variety of potential uses. When speaking of benefits, much will depend on what an organization chooses to do with their EA practice. The prime use of EA is to drive digital transformation. Creating short and long-term roadmaps, assessing the impacts of changes, gathering stakeholder views, and executing change are all possible through the application of EA. In general, EA will make firms more agile, able to react quickly to external events and deal with shocks. Digital Transformation is a key factor to business success, and indispensable, to achieving competitive advantage.

EA provides a holistic view of the current status of the organization's structure, enabling a simple understanding of where to change and its impacts. Architects can show the options that exist to change or make improvements in response to the constantly changing needs of the business environment. There can often be a disconnect between the business and IT, which hinders change, but EA helps to align Business and IT for successful digitalization.

At the same time, EA allows organizations to identify constraints and limitations imposed by the structure of the enterprise, which can then be alleviated to smooth transformation efforts.

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What are the four domains of Enterprise Architecture?


We’ve spoken at length about the wide scope and potential use cases for enterprise architecture, which can make it difficult for laymen to wrap their heads around it. A common way of breaking down EA is to use the “BDAT” stack, which describes 4 main domains of EA. TOGAF utilizes the BDAT model in its framework. BDAT stands for Business, Data, Application and Technology, and is often illustrated with a pyramid like so:

Enterprise Architecture Pillar



Business architecture represents the capabilities, structures and systems of an organization. Business architecture is concerned with the physical representations of a firm: the people, the equipment and the locations; and how they are organized in terms of structure and process. The aims of business architecture are high level, looking at what capabilities the business has and how they support or need to support strategy.

Data architecture is a set of rules, policies, standards and models that govern and define the type of data collected and how it is used, stored, managed and integrated within an organization and its database systems. This enables organizations to manage the flow of data and how it is processed.

Application architecture is a description of the structure and interaction of applications as groups of capabilities that provide key business functions and manage data assets. Essentially, it is concerned with business software and how it is used to support the business.

Technology architecture is the activity responsible for ensuring the technical systems and infrastructure are designed to support business requirements. It describes the necessary hardware for a business to deliver on their IT capabilities. Originally, digital transformation would have been driven by technology architectures, but as digital transformation has grown in importance it has become a more holistic initiative.

Now that we have an understanding of these four domains, we can see why the pyramid illustration is appropriate. The bottom layer, technology, underpins everything else; you cannot support applications or process data without the right technology. The middle layers, applications and data, enable business capabilities and decisions, which leads to the top layer, business, to create value and execute strategy. Alternatively, you can think of it top-down, and infer that business requirements determine what applications are supported and what data is needed, which then puts requirements on technology.

While “BDAT” can be useful, it is worth noting that EA can have many more domains and some view BDAT as an outdated approach to building an architecture. Modern enterprise architecture frameworks can have considerably more complicated models, while there are many more possible sub-domains of EA. Some examples include solution architecture, process architecture, security architecture, integration architecture and cloud architecture. However, BDAT remains vital for the popular TOGAF 9.2 framework, and is still clearly valued by architects.


Enterprise Architecture Methodologies

Developing and sustaining an enterprise architecture is a complex process, involving many stakeholders and decision processes. The majority of organizations use frameworks developed by third parties to help implement their EA practices.

By using a standard framework, organizations can develop an EA that is consistent, reflects the needs of stakeholders, employs best practice, and gives due consideration to current requirements.

There are 4 main EA frameworks:

  • The Open Group Enterprise Architecture Framework (TOGAF)
  • Federal Enterprise Architecture (FEA)
  • The Zachman Framework
  • The Gartner Methodology

TOGAF is the most popular framework in use, developed by The Open Group since 1995. The TOGAF framework divides the architecture into four categories: Business architecture, Application architecture, Data architecture, and Technology Architecture, which you should recognize as the BDAT stack from above. 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). The most recent version of TOGAF is 9.2, which was made available in 2018.

Federal Enterprise Architecture (sometimes called FEAF) is a framework for EA by the US federal government, designed for government enterprises. Version 2 of the FEA was published in 2013. This framework is distinguished by its purpose; businesses will not get as much out of it compared to government organizations.

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, with an update in 1992. Zachman’s framework is still maintained today and available for implementation, though it has largely been superseded by newer frameworks.

The Gartner Methodology, created by the company of the same name, is different from 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.


Enterprise Architecture Tools

Though Microsoft Visio and Excel can take care of many EA issues, the complexity and range of goals of EA & digital transformation are beyond general purpose software. It should come as no surprise that most EA practices will turn to purpose built EA software in order to create and maintain their EA. Formally known as Enterprise Architecture Management Software (EAMS), there are a number of enterprise architecture platforms on the market, including Orbus Software’s iServer and iServer 365.

EA tools will typically have the following features and benefits:

First is data storage. iServer 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 central repository enables collaboration. People from across the organization can access files, contribute more data and stay informed of company operations.

An important part of EA is adherence to certain standards and frameworks – such as the TOGAF framework or ArchiMate notation. Some will go beyond EA and support frameworks in other disciplines, like the governance framework COBIT 2019 or the security framework NIST CSF.

In addition, enterprise architecture programs will often have special features for each of the subdomains of EA, such as business architecture dashboards or security architecture visualizations.

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.

For a more in depth look at EA tools and the different options available, check out our article on EA Tools, Software and Platforms.


How do you Create an Enterprise Architecture?

While modern EA platforms are powerful, they cannot create a mature EA practice by themselves. Of course, before anything else you will actually need architects, people to use the frameworks and models and tools and all the rest. Building a team – in any area, not just EA – is a well-covered concept, so we won’t go over it here.

Once you have the people to build and maintain EA, the real work starts. A big challenge with EA is that there is little agreement on how to develop it and what steps enterprises need to take. In fact, one of the key reasons for TOGAF’s preeminence as an EA framework is its architecture development method, which gives any enterprise the tools they need to create architecture. The ADM enables architects to follow a best practice approach in developing a wide range of architectures. You can read more about what the ADM is and each stage of it in our article.

If you’re not using TOGAF’s ADM, things can be more difficult. Other frameworks do help give structure to a prospective enterprise architecture, but there are still so many potential decisions that it can be overwhelming. In truth, the first two paragraphs arguably answer the question of how to create an enterprise architecture already. Either hire an experienced person to do it for you, or use TOGAF’s ADM. Laboring away to make something from scratch might be an appealing academic exercise, but it would be a lot of wasted effort. Perhaps the only other option would be to turn to third party advisors; Orbus Software, for example, offer consultancy services, and we work with consultancy partners who can deliver EA.


The 5 EA Maturity Levels

For many reading this, enterprise architecture will already be established in your organization. But that does not mean that you will be anywhere close to accomplishing everything you can from EA or achieving your digital transformation goals.

After all, EA is still a relatively young discipline, with many organizations having only started their practices in the past few years. When it comes to understanding what EA can deliver, it is not just about business strategy or stakeholder aims, but also the ability of an EA practice to deliver. This is where maturity level is important.

  1. Emergent: Your enterprise architecture program is nascent - mostly undefined and non-functional. Agreeing and articulating a clear mission statement and principles, forming the basis of measurable objectives, is a key task at this stage.
  2. Developing: Your enterprise architecture program is developing – some basic definition has been undertaken, but the practice is not at a fully operational state and development may not be balanced across the measurement domains required to ensure a successful program.
  3. Functional: Your enterprise architecture program is at a moderate state of maturity. While the EA practice is likely to be functional and offers some business value, there is still much work to be done.
  4. Performing: Your enterprise architecture program is performing, but there are still gaps and areas for advancement. Common challenges at this maturity level are the ability to measure success with clear performance indicators.
  5. Optimized: The highest level of EA maturity. Strive to continuously review and improve the way your EA operates, and its measurable impact on the business, to keep pace with rapid change in both the business environment and your digital transformation goals.



Enterprise architecture is highly complex and can mean different things to different enterprises. However, we can now highlight a few commonalities. EA helps to describe an organization in an easily understood manner. By having this description, EA can help to guide and inform change, in particular by aligning the capabilities of IT with the needs of business strategy and driving digital transformation.

Many enterprises will make use of EA frameworks like TOGAF to help develop their EA capability. EA tools and EA platforms are another important asset, giving architects extra functionality and removing a lot of barriers to successful digital transformation. How a company creates and matures their EA is always going to be unique, but there is help available. Orbus Software can provide the tooling and guidance needed to take EA from a difficult idea to a successful method for enabling digital transformation.


Further Reading

EA is, by necessity, a vast discipline. It needs to be able to capture and describe entire organizations while still providing granular benefits. As such, this article only skims the surface for EA, and barely touches on the many facets of digital transformation.

A good place to start for further reading is to head to our page on TOGAF. Understanding and implementing a formal meta-model is normally the first step in establishing an EA function and TOGAF is the most popular choice for a reason. A more general introduction to digital transformation is also available.

Another option is to look directly into applicable products for EA. iServer 365 is a market-leading digital transformation tool, with support for every facet and use case of EA. The Orbus team can give a better demonstration of the benefits of EA and the opportunities for digital transformation than any possible article.