Home » Guides » Using Enterprise Architecture To Drive Outcomes

Using Enterprise Architecture To Drive Outcomes

Enterprise architecture (EA) has become an increasingly important part of how organizations visualize and drive their businesses outcomes.  While not a new discipline, it has been embraced by organizations as a way to improve how an enterprise conceives, communicates and connects every element of their business and how those elements might evolve.  This guide explores what constitutes EA, how it’s achieved, and where might things go wrong – focusing on the key characteristics and components that will help drive business agility.

What is Enterprise Architecture?

Enterprise Architecture is used to help an organization understand and assess all of the moving parts, enabling the creation of the connected enterprise.  Consider it as analogous to a planning department for a municipality.  It allows for the development of different models for the possible future development of the organization, just as city planners model possible development of their physical space.  In the context of an organization, a sample of the types of dimensions EA considers includes:

  • Technology
  • Infrastructure
  • Applications
  • Data and information management
  • Business capabilities and value streams
  • Security
  • Organization

Key characteristics of enterprise architecture

Organizations have been seeking a common language to understand and plan their business for as long as there have been organizations.  The current generation of EA is simply the newest evolution of a discipline that has been practiced for thousands of years. But throughout that time, Enterprise Architecture tools have always shared these characteristics:

1. Consistency

The ability to consider all elements in the same way both over time and through a common language for all business elements that enables ‘apples-to-apples’ comparisons of different variables.

2. Analysis

This allows an organization to consider a number of possible future evolutions of the business through the weighing of those different variables.

The 5 Components of Enterprise Architecture

It is important to note that EA doesn’t recommend the best course of action for an organization to take, it only analyzes the pros and cons of different approaches.  It is still up to business leaders to determine which strategies they want to pursue, where to make trade-offs, and how best to leverage their investments. To do so, any comprehensive approach to enterprise architecture must include these 5 key elements:

  1. Comprehensive inventories
  2. Standards and methodology
  3. Principles
  4. Modelling
  5. Architectural practice

1. Comprehensive inventories

This is the foundation of everything in EA.  The ability to create and maintain information about every business element in one place and in a consistent format is essential.  Without comprehensive inventories of business capabilities, information, technology and so on, there can be no comprehensive analysis and no development of options for future organizational evolution.  The ability to create and maintain these inventories also provides an early validation that the EA tool the organization has chosen is capable of supporting the need.

2. Standards and methodology

EA is an ongoing, strategic approach that requires consistency across all domains, all business areas, and over time.  In order to achieve that it requires the application of a well established, well understood methodology that provides the framework that all practitioners and stakeholders are operating with.  Additionally, it requires the definition of, and adherence to, standards that help ensure the quality and comprehensiveness of all EA activities are sufficient to meet the current and future needs of the organization.

3. Principles

EA isn’t a standardized approach to every business.  Rather it needs to be tailored to the specific needs of the business that it is being applied to.  That requires an understanding of the guiding principles for the organization so that those principles can inform the options and analyses developed as part of enterprise architecture.  Examples of these principles might be “buy over build” for organizations that aren’t in the technology business or “data is everybody’s business” to reflect a belief that all employees are accountable for data integrity within the organization.

4. Modelling

Models are an essential part of EA.  The ability to build different models to demonstrate what the future of the business might look like are a fundamental component of the discipline.  But those models must be informed by where the business is today.  They must be driven by complete, accurate and contextualized data, not simply manually created pictures based on subjective interpretations.  Models must reinforce and visually demonstrate the connected enterprise today, and the possibilities for the future.

5. Architecture practice

This final component of enterprise architecture is perhaps the most important.  EA must be a formally recognized practice within the organization.  EA isn’t something that can be done on the side by other functions or analysts within the organization.  It requires an ongoing investment in professions who have the training, experience and certifications needed to deliver an EA implementation that supports the business today and into the future.  Only then will the organization be able to generate the optimal return on the function through improved understanding, decision making and investments.

Enterprise Architecture vs. Business Architecture

Business architecture addresses the business domain and as such is a component of enterprise architecture.  EA cannot be viewed as complete without BA, but Business Architecture tools alone are not sufficient to provide the holistic and complete view of an organization that is needed, and that a comprehensive enterprise architecture solution provides. Enterprise architecture consists of four distinct domains:

  • Business
  • Information
  • Applications
  • Technology

3 Key Challenges of Enterprise Architecture

Enterprise architecture isn’t a silver bullet that will solve all an organization’s problems, but it is a valuable tool that is not too difficult to implement.  When organizations run into difficulties with EA it is usually down to execution problems rather than inherent flaws in EA itself. Some common problems that occur in execution include:

  1. A focus on only some of the domains of EA
  2. Utilizing tools that are barriers rather than enablers
  3. The absence of ongoing, practical support

1. A focus on only some of the domains of EA

To be successful there must be a 360-degree view of the business. The connected enterprise requires understanding of all those connection points. When the focus is only on one or two domains – technology is commonly the focus in this situation, there is an incomplete view, an incomplete understanding, and a myopic perspective that drives flawed decision making.

2. Utilizing tools that are barriers rather than enablers

An EA tool must be domain agnostic and data driven. If the tool creates a focus on only one or some of the elements of EA then it will not accurately reflect what is happening in the business today, nor the possible approaches to future evolutions. And unless it is driven by accurate and complete enterprise data it is not only prone to mistakes, it is harder to use and maintain, inevitably resulting in a lack of engagement and commitment to the approach.

3. The absence of ongoing, practical support

Organizations are continuously evolving and that means that EA must be capable of supporting that evolution – updating models, analyzing different options, and so on. For that to occur the concept must be supported by executives and must invest in skilled, experienced, and certified enterprise architects. There must be an acknowledgement that EA will require time and effort from all business areas and that it won’t simply be a ‘one and done’ exercise, but rather will be an integral, and essential, part of how business gets done moving forward.

If these problems are avoided, organizations can be successful with their EA endeavors, as long as they address all of the various components.

The Bottom Line

That idea of return on investment is key.  Organizations today have to operate with a fully connected enterprise.  The 360 Enterprise Connect component of our VIC Framework is the cornerstone of how we help organizations develop and optimize their approach to Strategic Portfolio Management.  And enterprise architecture is the enabler of the connected enterprise.  Without an effective and efficient EA practice in your organization you will always lack the compass that will help guide your strategic investments and optimize your ROI.

What to read next