A New Blueprint For The Enterprise

Enterprise architecture is not just about mapping and standardizing hardware and software anymore. Now it's about services, events and-get this-good old ROI.

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How EA Came in from the Cold

Enterprise architecture has long been the concept that dared not speak its name. Some CIOs go to great lengths to avoid using the term with their business peers for fear of scaring, alienating or simply boring them to death. But companies (such as Dow Jones, T-Mobile and Verizon) that have stuck with it are beginning to reap the savings, flexibility and business alignment that its proponents have been promising for nearly 20 years.

The concept hasn't changed much in that time: It's still basically city planning for IT, an overarching plan of the total data, business processes and IT assets inside a company, how they're used, and how they should be built and shared.

This has always been a big, difficult and expensive undertaking, and its ROI has often been opaque to the business. Standardizing, mapping and controlling IT assets does not make the business obviously more flexible, capable or profitable. As a result, IT architecture efforts often fail or become completely IT-centric.

But now that's changing.

Advances in integration technology—primarily intelligent and flexible middleware and Web services—are providing new ways for designing more agile, more responsive enterprise architectures that provide the kind of value the business has been seeking. With these new architectures, IT can build new business capabilities faster, cheaper and in a vocabulary the business can understand.

These advances are giving new life to a couple of old concepts that could inspire new EA efforts and revive failing ones.

The first concept is services, better known today as service-oriented architecture. SOA provides the value to the business that in the old enterprise architecture was rarely more than a vague promise.

The idea behind services is simple: Technology should be expressed as a chunk of the business rather than as an arcane application such as ERP or CRM. Shaygan Kheradpir, CIO at Verizon, estimates that he has more than 200 services sitting in a repository on his intranet, ranging from things like "credit check" to "customer record." Businesspeople can call for a service in a language they can understand, and IT can quickly link these with other services to form a workflow or, if need be, build a new application. These applications can be built quickly because complex, carefully designed interfaces allow developers to connect to the services without having to link directly to the code inside them. They don't even have to know how the service was built or in which type of language it was written.

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Lydian Trust CIO John Studdard's architecture allows him to "promise a new system in days or weeks instead of months."

The second concept currently driving enterprise architecture is events. Pioneered by telcos and financial services companies, this involves using IT systems to monitor a business process for events that matter—a stock-out in the warehouse, for example, or an especially large charge on a consumer's credit card—and automatically alert the people best equipped to do something about it. Together, services and events are revolutionizing the design of enterprise architecture, providing the kind of flexibility and value that CIOs, CFOs and CEOs have been looking for (but rarely have found) all these years.

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