What is Enterprise architecture?

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Enterprise architecture (EA) is “a well-defined practice for conducting enterprise analysis, design, planning, and implementation, using a comprehensive approach at all times, for the successful development and execution of strategy. Enterprise architecture applies architecture principles and practices to guide organizations through the business, information, process, and technology changes necessary to execute their strategies. These practices utilize the various aspects of an enterprise to identify, motivate, and achieve these changes.”

Practitioners of enterprise architecture, enterprise architects, are responsible for performing the analysis of business structure and processes and are often called upon to draw conclusions from the information collected to address the goals of enterprise architecture: effectiveness, efficiency, agility, and continuity of complex business operations.

The terms enterprise and architecture

The term enterprise can be defined as describing an organizational unit, organization, or collection of organizations that share a set of common goals and collaborate to provide specific products or services to customers.

In that sense, the term enterprise covers various types of organizations, regardless of their size, ownership model, operational model, or geographical distribution. It includes those organizations’ complete socio-technical systems, including people, information, processes, and technologies.

The term architecture refers to fundamental concepts or properties of a system in its environment, embodied in its elements, relationships, and in the principles of its design and evolution.

Understood as a socio-technical system, the term enterprise defines the scope of the enterprise architecture.

Scopes

Perspectives, or beliefs, held by enterprise architecture practitioners and scholars, with regards to the meaning of the enterprise architecture, typically gravitate towards one or a hybrid of three schools of thought:

  1. Enterprise IT design – the purpose of EA is the greater alignment between IT and business concerns. The main purpose of enterprise architecture is to guide the process of planning and designing the IT/IS capabilities of an enterprise in order to meet desired organizational objectives. Typically, architecture proposals and decisions are limited to the IT/IS aspects of the enterprise; other aspects only serve as inputs.
  2. Enterprise integrating – According to this school of thought, the purpose of EA is to achieve greater coherency between the various concerns of an enterprise (HR, IT, Operations, etc.) including the linking between strategy formulation and execution. Typically, architecture proposals and decisions encompass all the aspects of the enterprise.
  3. Enterprise ecosystem adaptation – the purpose of EA is to foster and maintain the learning capabilities of enterprises so that they may be sustainable. Consequently, a great deal of emphasis is put on improving the capabilities of the enterprise to improve itself, to innovate and to coevolve with its environment. Typically, proposals and decisions encompass both the enterprise and its environment.

One’s belief with regards to the meaning of enterprise architecture will impact how one sees its purpose, its scope, the means of achieving it, the skills needed to conduct it, and the locus of responsibility for conducting it.

Architectural description of an enterprise

According to the standard ISO/IEC/IEEE 42010, the product used to describe the architecture of a system is called an architectural description. In practice, an architectural description contains a variety of lists, tables, and diagrams. These are models known as views. In the case of Enterprise Architecture, these models describe the logical business functions or capabilities, business processes, human roles and actors, the physical organization structure, data flows and data stores, business applications and platform applications, hardware, and communications infrastructure.

The UK National Computing Centre EA best practice guidance states:

Normally an EA takes the form of a comprehensive set of cohesive models that describe the structure and functions of an enterprise. The individual models in an EA are arranged in a logical manner that provides an ever-increasing level of detail about the enterprise.

The architecture of an enterprise is described with a view to improving the manageability, effectiveness, efficiency, or agility of the business, and ensuring that money spent on information technology (IT) is justified.

Paramount to changing the enterprise architecture is the identification of a sponsor. His/her mission, vision, and strategy, and the governance framework define all roles, responsibilities, and relationships involved in the anticipated transformation. Changes considered by enterprise architects typically include:

  • innovations in the structure or processes of an organization
  • innovations in the use of information systems or technologies
  • the integration and/or standardization of business processes, and
  • improving the quality and timeliness of business information.

A methodology for developing and using architecture to guide the transformation of a business from a baseline state to a target state, sometimes through several transition states, is usually known as an enterprise architecture framework. A framework provides a structured collection of processes, techniques, artifact descriptions, reference models, and guidance for the production and use of an enterprise-specific architecture description.

Benefits

The benefits of enterprise architecture are achieved through its direct and indirect contributions to organizational goals. It has been found that the most notable benefits of enterprise architecture can be observed in the following areas:

  • Organizational design – Enterprise architecture provides support in the areas related to design and re-design of the organizational structures during mergers, acquisitions or during general organizational change.
  • Organizational processes and process standards – Enterprise architecture helps enforce discipline and standardization of business processes, and enable process consolidation, reuse, and integration.
  • Project portfolio management – Enterprise architecture supports investment decision-making and work prioritization.
  • Project management – Enterprise architecture enhances the collaboration and communication between project stakeholders. Enterprise architecture contributes to efficient project scoping and to defining more complete and consistent project deliverables.
  • Requirements engineering – Enterprise architecture increases the speed of requirement elicitation and the accuracy of requirement definitions, through publishing of the enterprise architecture documentation.
  • System development – Enterprise architecture contributes to optimal system designs and efficient resource allocation during system development and testing.
  • IT management and decision making – Enterprise architecture is found to help enforce discipline and standardization of IT planning activities and to contribute to a reduction in time for technology-related decision making.
  • IT value – Enterprise architecture helps reduce the system’s implementation and operational costs, and minimize replication of IT infrastructure services across business units.
  • IT complexity – Enterprise architecture contributes to a reduction in IT complexity, consolidation of data and applications, and to better interoperability of the systems.
  • IT openness – Enterprise architecture contributes to more open and responsive IT as reflected through increased accessibility of data for regulatory compliance, and increased transparency of infrastructure changes.
  • IT risk management – Enterprise architecture contributes to the reduction of business risks from system failures and security breaches. Enterprise architecture helps reduce risks of project delivery.

Source: Wikipedia

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