Wednesday, February 03, 2010

Enterprise Architecture

I often get asked 'what I do for a living?'.. to which, the response 'Architecture & Strategy' or 'Enterprise Architect' often draws several responses ranging from blank looks, puzzlement and a change of topic... 

In some rare circumstances however, this is followed up with 'so what do you EXACTLY do?'...
While a 'vague' answer may do with colleagues and friends, it's often a completely different story when the question is asked by a client to whom you are selling the service offering...

So.. what is 'Enterprise Architecture'? 

The definition according to MIT is 'Enterprise architecture is the organizing logic for business processes and IT infrastructure reflecting the integration and standardization requirements of the firm’s operating model.'

The Open Group (TOGAF) goes one step further to define why an organisation needs an enterprise architecture:
'The primary reason for developing an enterprise architecture is to support the business by providing the fundamental technology and process structure for an IT strategy. This in turn makes IT a responsive asset for a successful modern business strategy.'

While all of this provides a definition or explanation - it still does not tangibly (in my opinion) demonstrate the need or the value of Enterprise Architecture. Particularly when the audience is not architecture or even technology focused, this presents an even greater dilemma.

A good way to explain most ideas is through tangible examples of practical application. Often samples of architecture and its benefits can be utilised to describe the value and outcomes that may be achieved for an organisation through enterprise architecture. However, every business operates slightly differently and the drivers and jargon used within one industry may not necessarily resonate with another.

While searching for this elusive 'easy to understand and communicate' definition, I came across one such popular and widely used example.
The 'Winchester Mystery House' is a well-known Californian mansion that was built under the guidance of Sarah Winchester, the widows of the fun magnate, William Wirt Winchester. 
Some key facts of the house:
  • 38 years of construction with 147 builders and 0 architects
  • 160 rooms - 40 bedrooms, 6 kitchens, 2 basements, 950 doors
  • 65 doors lead into blank walls, 13 staircases were abandoned mid construction and there are 24 skylights in the floors
  • No architectural blueprint exists
  • Winchester never had a master set of blueprints, but did sketch out individual rooms on paper and even tablecloths
While this seems like a rather interesting fact and a potential tourist attraction in the Californian region, it importantly highlights the need for a plan/blueprint/architectural approach. In essence, an enterprise architecture provides for an organisation what Winchester didn't have - a master set of blueprints.

In this case, the master set of blueprints links the key business goals and strategy to enablers, in the form of an organisational structure or the IT environment (including the applications and systems).

More to follow...

1 comment:

Aditya Prateek Anand said...

After all, every A-team needs a Col. Hannibal with 'a plan'