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Issue of April 2004 

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Enterprise architecture

An enterprise architecture beyond IT

Rob Gout, Director, Gartner Consulting in Singapore says that CIOs should build an 'enterprise architecture' as opposed to an IT architecture, and look beyond IT into the business to actually make it work. by Soutiman Das Gupta

Why should CIOs consider building an enterprise architecture rather than an IT architecture?

Innovative business principles are changing the way a traditional enterprise is built. And the new enterprise demands new ways of constructing strategic enterprise architectures. When you talk about IT architecture, it only gives you a simplistic view in terms of the technology architecture. But when you talk about enterprise architecture it offers a bigger picture, of which, the technology is just one aspect.

A monolithic, centralized architectures that focuses only within the enterprise, and not on business partners and customers, is of no use. Architectures that only dictate how applications need to look inside, rather than how they interoperate, will not enable an enterprise for business transformation.

The enterprise architecture has to go beyond IT and provide 'business' value to the organization, as opposed to providing technological value, and create a link between business and IT. This architecture can create governance structures and processes, which are essential in order to remove delays from processes, manage rapid changes in the business environment, and encompass diverse portfolios of technology, applications, and data.

Isn't an IT architecture built to solve a business problem anyway?

If we look at the evolution of the way we have used IT, we'll see that in the '60s, '70s, and '80s whenever a business head came to the IT manager with a business issue, the IT manager would build an application solution to address it. And this process of creating a separate solution was repeated every time any business head approached IT.

As a result most companies built silos of IT solutions which had little scope to mature. These silos stayed on as legacy environments because the IT managers at the time of deploying the systems, never considered how difficult it would be to manage the architecture in future.

So now when a business wants to change, it finds the process difficult. Banks and financial institutions with lots of information in different locations especially feel the difficulty. These companies may want to profile customer information, create market statistics, and make forecasts to derive value.

And in many cases the business applications hold the same data in multiple locations, but the business doesn't know which one to take.

How will an enterprise architecture better solve the problem?

Building an enterprise architecture helps to overcome the problems because the architecture comprises components and modules. It sets guiding principles regarding what you can and can't do with IT.

The new architecture is enterprise-driven as opposed to being IT-driven, is polycentric and not product-centric, has a collaborative focus rather than an application focus, and focuses on aspects like revenue generation, efficiency, and governance instead of only on costs savings and control.

The enterprise architecture allows you to link all the aspects of business back to technology. And it means that the business must be understood from a technology angle.

What can an enterprise do to change its focus?

It's best to take a top-down approach. The CIO must understand what the business does, understand the stakeholders' (business heads’) roles, understand the business process and the styles that support the stakeholders, and then drive the specific technology to create the support.

The IT department handles technology very well anyway. So it's very important to understand the business aspects. If you use the wrong technology it will become obsolete soon. But if you can link it back to the business it can last longer.

How does Gartner's Enterprise Architecture Framework help?

The components of an ideal enterprise architecture are represented in Gartner's new Enterprise Architecture Framework (see diagram). The framework can be considered a model when a company has to build an enterprise architecture.

The framework is made of four elements. The first is the business relationship grid, the second encompasses the styles that represent key business processes, the third comprises patterns of logical technology models, and the fourth is about the core technology building blocks, which we call bricks, that link to the grid.

The top two elements make the business architecture. The business relationship grid, also known as the multi-enterprise grid, talks about where your organization stands among other organizations in their domains. The business processes styles brings your business domain into the architecture.

These two elements define the fundamental business styles of this domain of architecture, which is made up of a series of business activities. And categorizes these styles of business processes.

At the bottom are the foundational architectural elements called bricks. They can be the OSs or databases that link to the grid to provide technology functions. These bricks are the basic elements for building systems. And above the bricks are the patterns, which are the groupings of bricks. These are essentially the logical models of technology.

The bottom two layers determine the best reference models or patterns of IT solutions for each style. And with the use of these patterns, the building blocks or bricks are organized to create a base foundation of the enterprise infrastructure.

Components and smaller modules allow easier breakaway and inter-linking of processes. It can be explained with an analogy of a house, which has a well-architected kitchen with a refrigerator. If you need to change the refrigerator, will it be necessary to tear out the entire kitchen? A well architected kitchen will allow you to remove the old device, install a new one, and introduce more efficiency in day-to-day functions.

What are the best ways to manage the enterprise architecture?

Communication is the key to achieve a good enterprise architecture. Without effective communication the architecture means nothing. The business, and everybody in the organization needs to understand what the enterprise architecture is all about, and how it will benefit the business.

It is important to remember that the enterprise architect is not necessarily a technology person. He/she must talk to the business on business terms. Companies sometimes have sizeable funds for enterprise architecture but sign up the wrong person for the job. They actually sign up a technologist for the technology architecture, and the person fails to communicate the business aspects.

How does a company start working on the enterprise architecture?

The enterprise architecture needs to concentrate on enabling interoperability not only within, but among, enterprises. Back-office architectures must transform to emphasize inter-business processes, and become more flexible to facilitate more dynamic opportunities of business recombination. Businesses can become outward-looking rather than inward-looking.

The first thing you need to do is make a business case for an enterprise architecture. Don't try to go all the way right from the start, because you may not even get the funding. For instance, a legacy systems architecture can be very complex and may take time to change.

Begin by looking for something small that is wrong with the business, which when changed will make a difference in the business. Make the change and show the value to the business heads.

Remember that an enterprise architecture is flexible and evolves over time. Since the architecture is not binding, you must allow for exceptions. Not everything fits into the enterprise architecture. If there is an exception you must be able to manage it. And if you outsource the enterprise architecture you must be able to exercise control over it.

Will this dramatic vision happen tomorrow?

An enterprise architecture can't be created or evolved right away. There are still significant technology and business challenges. Along with that, issues like business trust, change management, and fear of change act as inhibitors. A step-by-step forward approach will help. However it's important to set the right direction for the transition today.

Soutiman Das Gupta can be reached at

The critical success factors of an enterprise architecture

  • Articulating the purpose and benefits
  • Distinguishing architectural strategies
  • Grounding the architecture in the needs of the business
  • Establishing governance outside IS
  • Designing top down
  • Communicating and selling the concept
  • Getting compliance early on
  • Managing exceptions
  • Measuring results to demonstrate effectiveness
  • Allowing the architecture to evolve
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