What is Enterprise Architecture? - Definition & Examples

Instructor: Sally Cornett
This lesson will explain why there is a need for Enterprise Architecture (EA), describe what it can offer an organization, and provide an overview of two notable EA frameworks in use today.

Preparing for the Future

''To keep business from disintegrating, the concept of information systems architecture is becoming less of an option and more of a necessity.''- John Zachman

With global competition and advancing technology, enterprise architecture is an essential way for today's businesses to consider how to structure themselves most effectively to get from where they are to where they see themselves in the future of their industry.

Definition

Enterprise Architecture (EA) is a way of organizing the operations and structure of a business. It's an easy concept to define, but more difficult to implement effectively. Think of an enterprise as a collection of organizations that have a common set of goals in delivering products or services to their market.

For example, let's say a corporation called TechToYou has a department that focuses on developing hardware devices, another that develops software for those devices and yet another that is responsible for marketing the integrated result.

Although each organizational unit has different responsibilities, the enterprise strategy for the corporation would outline key aspects of how to operate effectively to achieve the same common goal: delivery of advanced software and hardware devices to a non-technical user base. Very simply, enterprise architecture outlines how an enterprise, such as TechToYou, should organize and operate in order to achieve their objectives.

The need for enterprise architecture came in the late 1980s when businesses realized they were investing more and more money in computerized information technology. As that money was being spent, organizations discovered they had no plan for how that technology infrastructure would support their direction or continuing technology growth. Today EA models ensure this concept is applicable to all business functions - not just information technology.

Organizational complexity and a vision for the future play a large part in whether a business has a need for enterprise architecture. If you are building a home from existing plans, you can probably get along just fine without an architect. However, if your goal is to develop a new industrial complex for the city, the success of your operation will probably benefit from an architectural planner.

Enterprise Architecture Deliverables

An organization's EA model is likely to include an enterprise strategy document: a long term vision and operating model for the enterprise. The strategy document should include a list of challenges the strategy is intending to address (for example: increased productivity, expense reduction, organizational consolidation, or proposition of value the enterprise hopes to bring to the market it serves).

The EA documentation will also usually define the enterprise's current state, expected transition state and vision for a targeted state. Let's use TechToYou as an example again. At some point back in the early 1990s, their vision for a target state might have been: to deliver advanced devices using voice and touch technology, which could be operated by less technically savvy consumers.

A related transition state might have involved an initiative to develop Tiri (Talk Interpretation and Recognition Interface) as one step along the path to their targeted vision.

The enterprise strategy document is often supported by:

  • A list of initiatives that transition the enterprise from the current state to the targeted state.
  • A library of guidelines and processes documenting how to reliably and repeatably perform business functions.
  • A technology plan that identifies to what extent the enterprise will rely on information technology and how that plan will be developed and maintained.

All of these supporting components should be revisited over time by asking and answering questions like: Where do industry advancements suggest the need for process and technology revisions? What aspects of the model have since been identified as unattainable?

Sample Models

Let's take a look at two well-known enterprise architectural frameworks.

Zachman Framework

The Zachman Framework for enterprise architecture debuted as a white paper published by John A. Zachman of IBM in 1987 and was first applied by the US department of Defense. Zachman recognized that the same data is often used differently within an organization depending on the roles and jobs of the people using it. The framework he designed represents how that same data has different meaning to different stakeholders.

Each row of the Zachman framework represents a view of organization components from one group of stakeholder's perspective. Each subsequent row of the model refines the perspective. Working down each column adds additional detail to the organizational model. The who, what, where, when, why and how aspect of the table design is intended to reflect how the organization's information relates to the specific interest various stakeholders have in the enterprise and its goals.

A simplification of the Zachman Framework
Zachman Framework

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