Enterprise architecture and its significance for your business

2022 01 19

Author: Ramūnas Andzelis

Have you ever imagined how a new IT solution is fitted into the overall landscape of an information system? The picture below presents the usual situation when organisations force some IT solutions’ adoption without analysing the actual company’s needs. 

What can be done to avoid this result? The answer is that IT solutions might be implemented based on Enterprise Architecture (EA) practices.  

Our newest blog post presents a short step-by-step overview, introducing you to what kind of beast enterprise architecture is and why it is significant for organisations to adopt it. 

What is architecture?  

Gartner presents two quite different definitions of architecture in relation to information technology. The first one, which is more straightforward and narrower, defines architecture as: “the overall design of a computing system and the logical and physical interrelationships between its components. The architecture specifies the hardware, software, access methods and protocols used throughout the system.”  

Such definition speaks only about what is already done, meaning the current state or what should be achieved, explaining the future state. Unfortunately, most of the IT crowd understands the architecture’s term as the first presented definition. 

There is also another, a way wider way to describe architecture: “a framework and a set of guidelines to build new systems. IT architecture is a series of principles, guidelines, or rules used by an enterprise to direct acquiring, building, modifying, and interfacing IT resources within the enterprise. These resources can include equipment, software, communications, development methodologies, modelling tools, and organisational structures.”  

Within the second definition, we speak not only about WHAT, but also about HOW. It means the architecture describes the system, the creation rules, and the process. That is how IT leaders should understand the term of architecture – and it is also where the term enterprise comes onto the stage. 

What is an enterprise?  

When determining the enterprise’s term, it is relevant to analyse the definition presented by “The Open Group Architecture Framework” – TOGAF in short. TOGAF explains enterprise as “the highest-level (typically) of a description of an organisation and typically covers all missions and functions. An enterprise often spans multiple organisations.”   

It is essential to highlight that there are no associations with an organisation’s size or legal status in such a definition. The focus is on its goals and operations – paraphrasing, any organisation or collection of organisations with common goals can be considered an “enterprise”.  

Briefly – enterprises are not only big companies or holdings with billions in turnover and tens of thousands of employees, which usually comes to mind when talking about an enterprise. A single division of a company, an ordinary Limited Liability Company (LLC), or a startup developing team – all of them are organisations, or enterprises, from the viewpoint of enterprise architecture. 

What is enterprise architecture (EA)?  

There are many enterprise architecture frameworks, such as Zachman, TOGAF, DoDAF, MODAF, NAF. Each of them has its own, sometimes, even mind-blowing definitions. However, we can simplify them as follows: “Enterprise architecture is an approach that enables companies to achieve their strategic goals by combining business and IT resources.” 

The picture below shows how enterprise architecture treats an organisation as a set of four commonly accepted domains. 

The illustration above should be read as follows: business processes and activities use data that must be collected, organised, safeguarded, and distributed using applications such as custom or off-the-shelf software tools that run on technology such as computer and telephone networks.  

The data, applications, and technology domains could be treated as the IT architecture, and the top domain is the Business Architecture. This extra level provides the context and the meaning for the demanded IT activities because it answers WHY the business needs the particular IT service or function. The absence or misunderstanding of this context is a common reason why IT projects lose direction and purpose, and the result does not meet the business expectations. 

In short, enterprise architecture is a discipline that provides the most effective path to realising an enterprise’s strategy. It also defines the set of best practices, helping to achieve strategic business goals. Enterprise architecture uses a holistic approach to translate the company’s strategy into a well-defined execution path, using the appropriate analysis, planning, design, and implementation methods. We think this is how enterprise leaders should understand the term architecture. 

How does enterprise architecture work?  

Well, in a simplified manner, we might say that enterprise architecture operates as a navigation system: 

  • First, it is necessary to have the starting location and target point for your journey. The navigation system will be powerless to help if you do not know both the starting and endpoint.  
  • Optionally, you can specify intermediate stop points, as well as the toll roads that should be avoided, and so on.  
  • The navigation system analyses the possible routes and selects the most suitable route with estimated distance and journey time based on the allowed speed limits.   

From the enterprise architecture perspective, processes basically go in the same manner:  

  • The current (baseline) architecture should be known or defined, and the target architecture must be determined.  
  • Various business constraints, goals, objectives and missions, that is options for the enterprise journey, should be considered. 
  • Gaps between the baseline and target architectures are identified in a such manner: 1) what must be done, or the distance to travel in navigation terms; 2) then, the roadmap for the enterprise change, including IT, is prepared (the route) with intermediate stopping points (Interim or Transition Architectures) if needed.  

As a result of implementing the enterprise architecture roadmap, various organisational changes and IT projects are initiated. Although it should not vice versa when an organisation starts looking at why IT service is needed only during the IT project. It also happens frequently and is another relatively common reason for the failure of IT projects. 

Why is it essential to develop an enterprise architecture?  

Naturally, the answer comes from the previous sections – enterprise architecture is needed because it guides establishing an effective enterprise or organisation change in a structured and managed way.  

Here, we will briefly touch on another topic: digital transformation. This is a process that has become truly relevant to many companies in recent years. Enterprise architecture can lead enterprises through this kind of evolution by bringing all the enterprise components into the harmonised digital environment. However, it is another topic.  

Enterprise architecture covers multiple other benefits, such as: 

  • Risk management. Risks are identified. Also, risk mitigation actions are provided while analysing and developing an architecture for every enterprise architecture domain.  
  • Reduced complexity. Complex business and IT systems are difficult to manage, also cause many errors. As a result, they reduce the overall enterprise efficiency and increase operational costs. Enterprise architecture helps reduce system complexity by detecting and eliminating value-less services, functions, and processes, both business and IT.  
  • Time-savings. Enterprise architecture saves time for IT staff as it enables the optimisation of the IT tools and processes. It prevents more significant problems by allowing the causes of issues to be detected faster. This, in turn, reduces the loss of time and workforce downtime caused by disruptions.  
  • Return on investment. Enterprise architecture helps you choose effectively and flexibly between making, buying, or outsourcing your business and IT solutions. 

In conclusion, IT and the business society often presumes that enterprise architecture is only used to answer the big questions. That is not true.  

The same concepts, methods, techniques, and frameworks can readily address the end state and realise value for both big and little questions. Although the business, its environment, scope, and detailed description all vary, the concepts and the way of thinking still remain the same. Generally, the application of enterprise architecture provides the business an opportunity to reduce various risks and costs, save time, and ensure predictable development.  

If you want to use the potential of enterprise architecture and do not know where to begin, Baltic Amadeus team is more than ready to help you out.