Enterprise Architecture

Enterprise Architecture Challenges and Best Practices

What is Enterprise Architecture?

While no single definition of Enterprise Architecture (EA) exists, it is commonly understood to be a practice or discipline of organizing processes that promote an IT infrastructure in support of successful business practices.

The purpose of an enterprise architecture is to create a map of IT assets and business processes and a set of governing principles that drive an ongoing discussion about business strategy and how it can be expressed through IT. There are many different enterprise architecture frameworks that have been specifically developed since the 1980s, with the earliest origins of the concept of EA tracing back to the Business Systems Planning (BSP) methodology initiated by IBM in the 1960s. But in general all EA frameworks facilitate the development of an enterprise architecture with four basic domains in common:

  • Business architecture—defines business strategy and organization, key business processes, and governance and standards.
  • Data architecture—documents the structure of logical and physical data assets and any related data management resources.
  • Application systems architecture—provides a blueprint for deploying individual systems, including the interactions among application systems as well as their relationships to essential business processes.
  • Technology architecture—describes the hardware, software, and network infrastructure necessary to support the deployment of mission-critical applications.

Today's frameworks, such as The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) developed by The Open Group consortium, strive to provide tangible solutions beyond IT, integrating all domains of an enterprise, including overall business strategy, business needs, technology infrastructure and applications.

TOGAF was originally developed in 1995 by an open industry process with four goals:

  • Ensuring all users, from key stakeholders to team members, speak the same language, helping to communicate the framework, content, and goals in the same way in order to break down any communication barriers.
  • Avoiding being "locked in" to proprietary solutions for enterprise architecture. As long as the company is using the TOGAF internally and not towards commercial purposes, the framework is free.
  • Saving time and money and utilizing resources more effectively.
  • Achieving a demonstrable return on investment (ROI).

Enterprise Architecture Challenges

Almost 30 years after the creation of the Zachman Framework—the oldest of the currently used enterprise architecture frameworks—the question that still remains is, do EA frameworks bring any value to digital enterprises? Here are the main concerns surrounding the use of enterprise architecture frameworks today:

  • Documentation is not comprehensive—Despite numerous updates to the most popular frameworks created in the 80s and 90s, their modern versions may still be considered impractical or outdated. Filling the EA documentation gap requires resources that may not always be available.
  • They can be time-consuming and inflexible—Most EA frameworks are less dynamic than modern business toolkits. They take time to plan out, are not change-friendly, and require training to develop and present, and are more about documentation than system implementation.
  • Complete integration is difficult—The limitations of each framework may not provide an opportunity for seamless integration of legacy systems with a company's new system, requiring adjustments that require additional resources.

But all enterprise architecture frameworks, even with their flaws, do add value to businesses trying to rationalize their business model and processes with their IT investments.

Enterprise Architecture Best Practices

Enterprises often employ an enterprise architect whose responsibilities include the overall alignment of IT and business needs to achieve business strategy. A good enterprise architect isn't someone who simply follows a framework. Successful enterprise architects are able to understand all the moving parts and relationships within a business, including strategy, enterprise architecture, and project delivery to ensure success. In order to achieve enterprise architecture program success some key enterprise architect best practices outlined by Gartner Research include:

  • Charter the EA program
  • Develop (and execute) a communications plan
  • Treat each iteration of the plan like a project
  • Start with the business strategy and obtain business sponsorship
  • Do the future state of affairs before the current state
  • Be realistic
  • Implement governance
  • Set up a measurement program to gauge progress made

ThousandEyes addresses many of the challenges associated with an enterprise architecture by ensuring that enterprises get the detailed and accurate Network Intelligence they need so that enterprise architects can benchmark measured KPIs against enterprise architecture goals.