Wednesday, April 20, 2011

EA Wars

Lots of great discussion in the blogosphere right now on the relevance of Enterprise Architecture in the brave new world of the 'extended' enterprise and whether architecture is something that is planned or 'emerges'. This is largely prompted, I suspect, by the good folk at ZapThink asking Why Nobody is Doing Enterprise Architecture (possibly to plant seeds of doubt in the minds of CIOs and send them rushing to one of their "licensed ZapThink architecture courses"). For a nice, succinct and totally dismissive riposte to the ZapThink article check out David Sprott's blog entry here. For a more reasoned and skeptical discussion on whether emergent architecture actually exists (I think it does, see below) read Richard Veryard's blog entry here.

However... despite some real FUD'iness on the part of ZapThink there are some elements in their argument that definitely ring true and which I have observed in a number of clients I have worked with over the last few years. In particular: 
  • Emergence (i.e. "the way complex systems and patterns arise out of a multiplicity of relatively simple interactions") is, like it or not, a definite factor in the architecture of modern-day enterprises. This is especially true when the human dimension is factored into the mix. The current Gen Y and upcoming Gen V are not going to hang around while the EA department figure out how to factor their 10th generation iPhone, which offers 3-D holographic body-time, into an EA blueprint. They are just going to bypass the current systems and use it regardless. The enterprise had better quickly figure out the implications of such devices (whatever they turn out to be) or risk becoming a technological backwater.
  • EA departments seem to very quickly become disjoint from both the business which they should be serving and the technicians which they should be governing. One is definitely tempted to ask "who is governing the governors" when it comes to the EA department? Accountability in many organisations definitely seems to be lacking. This feels to me like another example of gapology that seems to be increasingly apparent in such organisations.
  • Even though we are better placed than ever to be able to capture good methodological approaches to systems development I still see precious little adoption of true systems development lifecycles (SDLC's) in organisations. Admittedly methods have had very bad press over the years as they are often seen as been an unnecessary overhead which, with the rise of agile, have been pushed into the background as something an organisation must have in order to be ISO 9000 compliant or whatever but everyone really just gets on with it and ignores all that stuff.
  • Finally, as with many things in IT, the situation has been confused by having multiple and overlapping standards and frameworks in the EA space (TOGAF, Zachman and MODAF to name but three). Whilst none of these may be perfect I think the important thing is to go with one and adapt it accordingly to what works for your organisation. What we should not be doing is inventing more frameworks (and standards bodies to promote them). As with developing an EA itself the approach an EA department should take to selecting an EA framework is to start small and grow on an as needs basis. 

2 comments:

  1. I like this article. By analogy I think an Enterprise Architect is like a City planner of an already well developed city. Yes, he or has has remit to make plans and changes, but gets very little to exercise that, given the existing connections, inter-dependencies and stakeholders, all of whom he is aware of more than anyone else. By design or by structure, haven't found Enterprise Architecture to be well equipped to drive innovation or major change by its own, a feature I think is needed to make it a leading discipline.

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  2. Rajat, thanks for your feedback. The analogy between an EA and city planner is a good one with more of an emphasis on the 'planning' rather than the 'architecture'. A good EA needs to not only have a plan that shows how the enterprise can evolve but also needs the ability to convince others to come with him or her on that journey. Power of persuasion is an important skill needed by all EA's.

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