City Planning: A Metaphor for Enterprise Architecture

Build IT right and the business will come.

Enterprise architecture or city planning? "City planning" is an easily understood metaphor that architects can employ to communicate more effectively the nature and value of architecture by relating the "unseen" enterprise architecture to real-world concepts that are well understood.

META Trend: Enterprise architecture (EA) success will be determined by the extent to which corporate and line-of-business managers comprehend, support, and enforce the architecture. By 2007, 15 percent of EA core teams will move out from under the IT organization's management structure, with direct reporting relationships to either corporate strategy or corporate change management functions. By 2007, 40 percent of enterprise architects will have primary expertise in business strategy or process engineering.

Global 2000 companies are increasingly using a "city planning" metaphor to define the processes and deliverables of the architecture program. The city-planning model helps architecture stakeholders - IT managers, line-of-business (LOB) managers, and corporate managers - understand the role of architecture. In particular, companies are focusing on "building codes" that define the principles and guidelines for architecture and on "building permits" that are granted to change initiatives that have been deemed compliant through the architecture review process. Currently, 20 percent of companies issue "building permits" as part of the architecture review process. By 2006, this number will increase to 35 percent, as companies both formalize and institutionalize architecture review processes. Currently, 50 percent of companies have issued a clear "building code" in the form of architecture principles and guidelines.

The city-planning approach does not imply a radically new approach to architecture. In fact, we can relate the city-planning model to Meta Group's architecture process model that was developed in 1996. Translating the Meta Group architecture model to the city-planning approach, the common requirements vision becomes the city vision, the conceptual architecture principles become the building code, and the future-state models become the city plan. The advantage of the city-planning metaphor is that it represents processes and deliverables that are broadly understood, enabling communication that leverages common knowledge while avoiding introduction of entirely new concepts.

A fundamental problem for many architecture programs is poor understanding of the basics - for example, "What is architecture, and why are we doing this?" In many companies, architecture remains a mystery even to the stakeholders, and as a result, the value of architecture is continually questioned. Architecture programs occasionally will fail due to lack of understanding and support.

A problem architects face (even within the team) is the level of abstraction that is inherent to architecture. More specifically, technology architecture often is the specification of the interaction of data between systems, systems with networks, and systems with users. Unfortunately, although these interactions are real, they are not sensorial - it is not possible to truly see, smell, or touch them.

Conversely, city planning provides a model of the physical world and entails activity similar to the enterprise architecture process, yet more familiar. For example, it is relatively easy for anyone to relate to the idea of a building code specifying that bedroom windows must be at least 760mm high and 500mm across to allow access for emergency fire crews. Less obvious, however, is the need for Ethernet connections to be 100Mbps to enable adequate performance for streaming data such as video or voice.

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With the city-planning metaphor, the key deliverables are the following:

  • The city plan (or city vision)
  • The zoning plan
  • The building code
  • The approved building-materials list
  • The City Plan: The city plan document defines the vision for the evolution of the city and is driven by the most important strategies for the city. The business visioning activity in the enterprise architecture process is the equivalent of the high-level city plan. These activities provide the context and direction for the evolution of the architecture.

    The Zoning Plan: The zoning plan specifies the guidelines for the city's evolution, identifying which areas will be for residential use, for retail use, and for industrial use or for parkland. The plan also includes standards for the type of buildings that can be used in a particular area (for example, single-family dwelling, apartment, warehouse). The equivalent "zone plan" in enterprise architecture is the infrastructure patterns, which define the technical infrastructure required for specific purposes (for example, n-tier client/server for transactions). In communities, each single-family dwelling may have some variations, but they all comply with the broader definitions of single-family home, which is similar to IT, where there are many types of systems that support different business functions (for example, HR, finance, sales) but each of these systems can be classified as a transaction-oriented system - and may employ the same type of "technology building blocks" in their construction.

    The Building Code: The building code specifies the building standards that are important for the community, breaking them down into different areas (for example, fire code, electrical code, plumbing code). Some codes are universally accepted (for example, every bedroom must have a window), while other building codes may be unique to a city (for example, a Mediterranean island might specify that "all houses will be whitewashed with blue trim"). Enterprise architects must first review the "universal building code" to determine which of the common building codes are applicable to their company, and then also extend that standard to the building codes that are unique to their company.

    The Building-Materials List: The approved building-materials list for the enterprise architecture is the "formally approved hardware and software products, configurations, data, information, and processes used to guide the engineering of information technology solutions for a given enterprise". Standards identify an organization's preferred means of creating and managing all components and related processes for IT organizations. They protect both the company and the users by ensuring that the products have been tested and are fit for the purpose, and that the products can be migrated over time. In the enterprise architecture process, building permits cannot be issued until the architecture has been delivered, since the architecture provides the standards for compliance.

    Companies that have used this city-planning approach have had success in establishing the value of architecture by providing a communication mechanism (and metaphor) that is easily understood by architecture stakeholders.

    Business Impact: Enterprise architecture must be understood and supported to be successful as a method for designing and implementing change in a rapid and recurring manner. The city-planning metaphor helps accelerate the understanding and acceptance of architecture.

    Bottom Line: Selling the value of architecture to the program stakeholders is an essential component of enterprise architecture success. If the nomenclature of architecture inhibits understanding and support, more useful terms should be applied. Brian Burke is an analyst with Meta Group (US)

    Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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