What is enterprise architecture? A framework for transformation

Enterprise architecture is the process by which organizations standardize and organize IT infrastructure to aligns with business goals. These strategies support digital transformation, IT growth and the modernization of IT as a department.

Sarah K. White Oct 16th 2018

What is enterprise architecture?

Enterprise architecture (EA) is the practice of analyzing, designing, planning and implementing enterprise analysis to successfully execute on business strategies. EA helps businesses structure IT projects and policies to achieve desired business results and to stay on top of industry trends and disruptions using architecture principles and practices, a process also known as enterprise architectural planning (EAP).

EA began in the 1960s, born from “various architectural manuscripts on Business Systems Planning (BSP) by Professor Dewey Walker,” according to the Enterprise Architecture Book of Knowledge (EABOK). John Zachmann, one of Walker’s students, helped formulate those documents into the more structured format of EA. Both men also worked for IBM during this time, and that’s when Zachman published the framework in the IBM Systems Journal in 1987.

Modern EA strategies now extend this philosophy to the entire business, not just IT, to ensure the business is aligned with digital transformation strategies and technological growth. EA is especially useful for large businesses going through digital transformation, because it focuses on bringing legacy processes and applications together to form a more seamless environment.

Goals of enterprise architecture

EA is guided by the organization’s business requirements — it helps lay out how information, business and technology flow together. This has become a priority for businesses that are trying to keep up with new technologies such as the cloud, IoT, machine learning and other emerging trends that will prompt digital transformation.

“The framework successfully combines people, data and technology to show a comprehensive view of the inter-relationships within an information technology organization,” according to the EABOK.  

The process is driven by a “comprehensive picture of an entire enterprise from the perspectives of owner, designer and builder.” Unlike other frameworks, it doesn’t include a formal documentation structure; instead, it’s intended to offer a more holistic view of the enterprise, according to the EABOK.

A good EAP strategy considers the latest innovations in business processes, organizational structure, information systems and technologies. It will also include standard language and best practices for business processes, including analyzing where processes can be integrated or eliminated throughout the organization. The ultimate goal of any EAP strategy is to improve the efficiency, timeliness and reliability of business information.

Benefits of enterprise architecture

EA can offer support for re-designs and re-organization, especially during major organizational changes, mergers or acquisitions. It’s also useful for bringing more discipline into the organization by standardizing and consolidating processes for more consistency.

EA is also used in system development, IT management and decision-making, and IT risk management to eliminate errors, system failures and security breaches. It can also help businesses navigate complex IT structures or to make IT more accessible to other business units.

According to CompTIA, the biggest benefits of EAP include:

  • Allowing more open collaboration between IT and business units
  • Giving business the ability to prioritize investments
  • Making it easier to evaluate existing architecture against long-term goals
  • Establishing processes to evaluate and procure technology
  • Giving comprehensive view of IT architecture to all business units outside of IT
  • Providing a benchmarking framework to compare results against other organizations or standards

Enterprise architecture methodologies

Enterprise architecture as a framework can be vague since it’s meant to address the entire organization, instead of individual needs, problems or business units. Therefore, several frameworks exist to help companies effectively implement and track EAP.

According to CompTIA, these are the four leading Enterprise Architect Planning (EAP) methodologies:

  • The Open Group Architectural Framework (TOGAF): TOGAF provides principles for designing, planning, implementing and governing enterprise IT architecture. The TOGAF framework helps businesses create a standardized approach to EA with a common vocabulary, recommended standards, compliance methods, suggested tools and software and a method to define best practices. The TOGAF framework is widely popular as an enterprise architect framework, and according to The Open Group it’s been adopted by more than 80 percent of the world’s leading enterprises.
  • The Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architecture: The Zachman framework is named after one of the original founders of enterprise architecture and it’s another popular EA methodology. It’s better understood as a “taxonomy,” according to CompTIA, and it spans six architectural focal points and six primary stakeholders to help standardize and define the IT architecture components and outputs.
  • Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework (FEAF): FEAF was introduced in 1996 as a response to the Clinger-Cohen act, which introduced mandates for IT effectiveness in federal agencies. It’s designed for the U.S. government, but it can also be applied to private companies that want to use the framework.
  • Gartner: After acquiring The Meta Group in 2005, Gartner established best practices for EAP and adapted them into the company’s general consulting practices. While it’s not an individual framework, CompTIA recognizes it as a “practical” methodology that focuses on business outcomes with “few explicit steps or components.”

These are just four of the most commonly referenced and recognized EA methodologies, but others exist. For example, there’s the European Space Agency Architectural Framework (ESAAF), the Ministry of Defence Architecture Framework (MODAF) and the SAP Enterprise Architecture Framework. These frameworks are specifically targeted to individual industries or products, targeting more of a niche market than the more generalized EA methodologies listed above.

Enterprise architect role

Enterprise architects typically report to the CIO or other IT managers. They’re responsible for analyzing business structures and processes to see that they align with business goals effectively and efficiently. As an enterprise architect, you’ll also be responsible for ensuring these structures and processes are agile and durable, so they can swiftly adapt and withstand major change.

It’s a lucrative role, with a reported average salary of $128,600 per year, with a reported salary range of $93,000 to $190,000 per year, according to data from PayScale. Enterprise architects often go on to work as a CTO, software engineering or development director or CIO.

To become an enterprise architect, you’ll need an undergraduate degree in computer science, information technology or a related field and at least 10 years of experience in IT or a related field. You’ll also need hands-on experience working with computer systems, hard drives, mainframes and other architecture technology. Enterprise architects need several soft skills to be successful, including communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, leadership and teamwork. According to PayScale, the most commonly reported hard skills for an IT enterprise architect include:

  • Java and J2EE
  • Service oriented architecture (SOA)
  • Enterprise application integration
  • Cloud computing
  • Software and systems architecture
  • Enterprise solutions
  • Strategy development
  • IT and project management

Enterprise architecture tools and software

Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint are the two most basic tools you’ll use for enterprise architectural planning. However, there are other third-party tools and software suites that will help you create advanced EA strategies for your business.

According to data from Gartner Peer Insights, here are some of the popular options currently on the market:

  • Orbus Software
  • Sparx Systems
  • Software AG
  • Avolution
  • Mega
  • Erwin
  • BiZZdesign
  • Planview
  • SAP
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