by Chris Potts

True Enterprise Architecture

Jun 13, 20083 mins
IT Leadership

The value that a company can achieve with Enterprise Architecture (EA) by applying it to IT is just a fraction of its true potential.  However, to reap the true benefits of EA may – in extreme cases – mean calling it something else.

On Tuesday I addressed the Enterprise Architecture Conference Europe in London, England.  My subject was ‘Breaking Enterprise Architecture out of IT”. 

Like all the best conferences, it’s organised by people with a real understanding of the subject but are independent of any particular viewpoint.  So there was a fantastic variety of speakers and perspectives, and a cosmopolitan audience.  Although the conference is primarily for Europe, we had delegates and speakers from the North America, the Middle East, South Africa, Asia and Australia.

All of this helped to highlight once again that EA is a big, diverse subject with global reach and significance. 

But therein lies its most pressing paradox:  to be big and diverse, yet succinct about what it truly promises.  Unless business leaders clearly understand and take advantage of the value EA can add, on their own terms, all the expertise and knowledge that it represents can go largely untapped.

Historically, business leaders have seen EA as a mainly IT-related capability.  Formal EA tends to radiate out from the CIO and her team and much of what it promises can seem to be about technology.  However, while there’s value in applying EA to the IT aspects of being a business, that’s only a fraction of the potential value it can bring. 

Also, while any formalised EA has tended to sit with the CIO and IT, every organisation is doing informal EA all the time, and all over the place.  Executives and managers are frequently making decisions that affect the overall ‘architecture’ of the company (although they may not know it).   In any successful company, there must be some aggregate wisdom in those decisions, albeit suboptimal.  So the challenge of any formal EA is to understand and enhance the value that the company’s ‘de facto EA’ already creates.  

The perception that EA is primarily IT-related may already be too deeply ingrained, at least in some organizations  That’s a shame, because the words “Enterprise” and “Architecture” existed long before IT, and whoever first thought of putting them together created a truly inspiring metaphor.  There’s no obvious reason why this should imply a particular link with IT.

If the perceived EA-IT link is too deeply ingrained, then ‘true EA’ will need to be called something else or have no name at all.  What matters is that an already-successful business reaps the benefit of having it.