"Enterprise architecture" (EA) is a term we are hearing about from our customers on a weekly, if not daily, basis. The definition of EA that makes the most sense to me is this: it's the abstracted level of IT assets that allows the business to function.
The practice of EA has been around for about 20 years, and while there are organizations that build EA standards and frameworks, publish books, hold conferences and give certifications (i.e., The Open Group), there's still confusion about exactly what EA is.
Some EA teams perform more solution architecture or engineering-type activities for their organization, while other EA teams are siloed within single domains within an organization (e.g., network, security, application, etc.).
For EA to be truly effective, it needs to be practiced at the enterprise level and perform an architectural function. To better understand this, let’s look at some definitions.
A formal definition of EA from the Federation of Enterprise Architecture Professional Organizations states:
This stems from the formal definition of architecture provided by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE-1471-2000):
Potential failure modes
Over the years, the practice of EA has gone through a variety of transformations, and in many cases, it has failed to live up to its promise. There are typically four reasons why an EA function fails in an organization:
- The EA process is not trusted by the organization.
- The organization is not held accountable to conform to the EA artifacts created.
- EA teams are viewed as an “ivory tower,” mandating activity without regard for the realities of the organization’s day-to-day challenges.
- EA artifacts are not easily consumable.
Our approach to EA
To alleviate these challenges, WWT is taking a different approach to EA with our customers. The goal is to modernize the EA process and tie the artifacts created (e.g., strategies, roadmaps, reference architectures, etc.) directly to actionable results. WWT and the customer’s EA team will approach the authoring process not as creators, but as curators of the collective mindshare of the organization.
Our process for creating EA artifacts is iterative and collaborative in order to gain trust within the customer’s wider organization. In addition, the artifacts are disseminated using modern methodologies, such as a wiki, to make the materials consumable, available and linkable. Finally, a governance process is developed within the customer’s organization to officially ratify these artifacts so they carry the weight of policy and can be enforced holistically.
The full picture of EA
Taking a step back, the process described above is only one “layer of the cake” — the strategic layer. As artifacts are curated by the EA team, the rest of the organization must come onboard to put those strategies, roadmaps, etc. into practice. To do this, there needs to be a transition from a focus on strategy to a focus on operations and technology as shown in the figure below.
This focus on people/process and how the business should organize to execute is often overlooked and can make a significant impact on achieving the strategies set out by the organization. Having a strategy down on paper is important, but the process of restructuring the organization to meet this strategy can lead to decisions that may be detrimental to the organization.
To bring clarity to this lofty task, we offer an Operational Readiness Assessment.
An Operational Readiness Assessment takes a deeper look at the current state of affairs and draws up more detailed plans for how the organization will go from where they are today to where they want to be. The focus of this offering is on preparing the people in the organization for change, providing clear, consistent communication of what is to come and why and a tactical plan of attack.
Once the strategies are in place and the organization is ready for a transformation, it's time for the architecture to be deployed according to plan. This is where the rubber meets the road, and where we have decades of experience to rely on. This stage is termed enterprise architecture deployment, and it is the actual design and integration of hardware, software and business processes to enable the business to store, transmit and transform data, with the overall goal creating valuable business outcomes.
At WWT, we have been helping customers architect/design, test and experiment with new enterprise architecture deployments. Our Advanced Technology Center (ATC) provides a significant differentiator for our customers to get hands-on experience with real hardware and software components in a safe and stable environment. These experiences include deploying and testing a greenfield next generation data center design, recreating a customer’s solution architecture and walking through the steps to safely migrate to a more stable/API-driven architecture.
Not only is the ATC a giant enterprise lab and testing facility, it's also filled with a deep bench of technical engineers and architects who are always learning and gathering best practices from our customers and partners around the world.
Continue the EA conversation by posting your challenges or successes in the comment section below.