by Chris Potts

Enterprise Architecture: Tigers with Toolboxes

Jul 30, 20082 mins
IT Leadership

A phone call from a vendor of Enterprise Architecture software is another reminder to ask where the balance needs to lie between Enterprise, and Architecture.

Because I spoke in June at the Enterprise Architecture (EA) conference in London, I had a call this afternoon from Peter on behalf of a company that sells EA software tools. 

My talk at the conference was about Breaking EA Out of IT (see my related blog True Enterprise Architecture, and the original article I wrote for the GEAO).  It was founded on the observation that EA is massively more valuable as a tool for leading business change when it’s not IT-centric.   In most organizations, however, it has grown up within the IT department, and many of its traditional proponents find it hard to keep the technology elements of EA in proper proportion to the true Enterprise elements from which EA takes its name.

For the purposes of illustrating my message, I borrowed (or re-used, in EA language) the definition of Enterprise used in Economics:  the ‘animal spirits’ of the entrepreneur, as it says in my Pocket Economist.  Hence the Tiger, although on the day I offered a number of metaphorical animals to choose from.  My favorite, albeit somewhat risky, was a Monkey with a Toolbox.  After all, EA is primarily about driving business innovation and if nobody thinks you’re crazy, you’re not innovating.  But a Tiger is a more orthodox metaphor for Enterprise, and anyway it alliterates with Toolbox.

Because of EA’s traditions, there always a danger of it being not quite enough Tiger (or indeed Monkey) and a bit too much Toolbox.  For example, it can end up concentrating more on frameworks, models, techniques and technologies than on being out there in the corporate jungle, helping to shape, influence and architect the collective Enterprise of the people running the company and investing in change.    

So breaking EA out of a technically-focused environment such as IT and into the wider business often means rebalancing its focus, sometimes quite radically.  The big benefits come when Enterprise drives the Architecture, not the other way around.