Enterprise architecture is not rocket science

Some areas of networking, such as satellite communications, actually involve rocket science. Building an enterprise architecture, however, is not rocket science. Its goal is to create a unified IT environment of standardized hardware and software systems across the firm, with tight links to the business side of the organization.

Many companies have made major IT investments in recent years and need to optimize these assets. Organizations with information-intensive operations, such as banks, brokerage firms and insurance companies, typically spend as much as 6 percent to 10 percent of gross revenue on their IT budgets. IT assets encompass logical resources, such as applications and databases, as well as physical resources, such as processors, storage and networks. A firm optimizes these assets by developing an enterprise architecture -- a blueprint of its information systems and technology environment.

With an enterprise architecture, a company creates a map of its IT assets and business processes, and a set of governing principles that support the business strategy and how it can be expressed through IT. The enterprise architecture specifies equipment, protocol and interface standards; IT strategies; projects needed to bring about the architecture and achieve the target state; and a development/deployment plan.

There are many models for developing an enterprise architecture, including the Open Group Architecture Framework, the Zachman Architecture Framework and the Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework. Most frameworks contain four basic domains: 1) business architecture -- documentation that outlines the firm's most important business processes; 2) information architecture -- documentation that identifies where important blocks of information, such as customer records, are kept and how to access them; 3) application system architecture -- a map of the software applications' relationships to one another; and 4) infrastructure technology architecture -- a blueprint of the firm's hardware, storage systems and networks.

The importance of having an enterprise architecture for large operations is reinforced by the Clinger-Cohen Act of 1996, which authorized for all federal agencies a CIO responsible for developing, maintaining and facilitating a sound and integrated IT architecture.

But remember, enterprise architecture is not rocket science. It involves following proven do's and don'ts, including:

  • Have an underlying architecture framework and a road map for realizing your target.
  • Have standards and conformance criteria.
  • Use industry-developed approaches and modeling tools, not homegrown architecture frameworks and models.
  • Hire and utilize the right people.
  • Don't spend years developing the framework and lose credibility with the firm about the value of enterprise architecture.
  • Don't be in a situation where there are no mechanisms for enforcing the architecture effectively.
  • Don't rubber-stamp every project; make sure they conform to the enterprise architecture.
  • Don't make architecture artifacts so esoteric that no one uses them after they are written.

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