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What is EA?

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The scope of enterprise architecture for our initiatives is the architecture of the enterprise as a whole which is broader than the traditional use of EA to mean an enterprise-wide architecture for the enterprise's information technology (IT) assets. The latter architecture is sometimes referred to as an enterprise information technology architecture (EITA) or an enterprise information systems architecture (EISA). There are several enterprise frameworks and methodologies that have been developed for the EITA (or EISA) and are targeted at the alignment of IT assets and capabilities with the enterprise's mission and strategy. There is growing interest in the application of this architectural thinking to enterprise domains other than IT. We strongly support the evolution and extension of frameworks, methodologies that originated in the IT domain to the rest of the enterprise. We will use the term "enterprise architecture" in our discussions and when referring to the popular frameworks and methodologies with an understanding that the past and current use of the term typically refers to EITA (or EISA) but that the term will evolve to include the entire enterprise in the future (and already have in many circles).

Normally an enterprise architecture takes the form of a comprehensive set of integrated models that describe the structure and the functions of an enterprise. Important uses of it are in systematic IT planning, architecting and in enhanced decision making. The individual models in EA are arranged in a logical manner which provides an ever-increasing level of detail about the enterprise, including:

  • Its objectives and goals
  • Its processes and organization
  • Its systems and data
  • The technology used

Industry research organizations such as Gartner, Forrester and others as well as the scant academic research often stress that the definition of enterprise architecture should be action-oriented that is focus on the "verb" and we concur with this perspective because we feel it is important to emphasize the fact that enterprise architecture is a process. This is important because we find that often when people focus on the outputs ("the noun") rather than the process they tend to be more concerned about producing a predefined set of deliverables than they are about meeting the strategic imperatives of the enterprise. This single-minded focus on deliverables is a mistake because it can lead to mountains of "artifacts" (requirements, models, principles, guidelines, standards) that are not necessarily connected to the strategic imperatives of the enterprise and are therefore not leveraged across the organization. This process enables the IT architecture to evolve, enable the enterprise to continuously transform how it performs it's business.

The usefulness of this perspective is underscored by how it can bridge from theoretical academic research outcomes towards tangible and pragmatic outcomes such as requirements, principles and models that describe the next major transformational future state, analysis of the gaps between the future state and the current state, road maps that support the evolution of the enterprise to the future state by closing the gaps.

An EA process that delivers business value to the enterprise produces several things:

  • An articulation of the strategic requirements of the enterprise
  • Models of the future state which illustrate what the enterprise should look like across all EA viewpoints in support of the business strategy
  • A road map of the change initiatives required to reach that future state
  • The requirements, principles, standards and guidelines that will steer the implementation of change initiatives

The primary purpose of describing the architecture of an enterprise is to improve the effectiveness or efficiency of the business itself. This includes innovations in the structure of an organization, the centralization or federation of business processes, the quality and timeliness of business information or ensuring that money spent on information technology can be justified.

There are many different ways to use this information to improve the functioning of a business. One method described in the popular TOGAF architectural framework is to develop an Architectural Vision which is a description of the business that represents a "target" or "future state" goal. Once this vision is well understood a set of intermediate steps is created that illustrate the process of changing from the present situation to the target. These intermediate steps are called "Transitional Architectures" by TOGAF. Similar methods have been described in other Enterprise Architecture frameworks (see "A Comparison of the Top Four Enterprise-Architecture Methodologies" at: http://msdn.microsoft.com/en-us/library/bb466232.aspx).

We do not intend to endorse a particular framework or methodology but rather explore how these approaches are used in practice and provide objective research in a variety of EA-related areas.