With the new year upon us, and the precept of resolutions in the air, it’s a good time to think about getting organized (personally, I cleaned out the attic). Hence a look at enterprise architecture. If I grasp its definition correctly, it’s a way for CIOs and their designated enterprise architects to create a foundation solid enough upon which to build any capability that the business throws at them, without tearing anything down and starting over again. Goodness knows that’s not easy to do without ending up with an infrastructure that resembles Silicon Valley’s earliest landmark, the Winchester Mystery House.
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If you want a discussion of EA that’s more enlightening than disorienting, I highly recommend this short piece entitled Why do we need architecture? It was written late last year by someone who knows: Adrian Grigoriu, the head of enterprise architecture at Ofcom, the UK’s spectrum and broadcasting regulatory agency.
“The architecture describes primarily the current system/enterprise,” Grigoriu writes. “It may also describe the target system/enterprise in order to visualise its end state. The architecture is employed in the process of enterprise transformation to ensure that projects are aligned in an enterprise-wide portfolio covering all enterprise entities, the business and technology issues and their dependencies.”
What a concept – knowing how changing a system will affect other parts of the system before it happens. In this regard, EA is the antithesis of spaghetti – whether it’s spaghetti code, spaghetti cabling, or something else.
That still doesn’t make EA easy. Enterprise architects are the Felix Ungers of IT, and the Oscar Madisons don’t understand why the occasional dirty plate left on the counter is a problem. In a post last week, Grigoriu talked about how difficult it is to be an enterprise architect, given how frequently the position is seen as an obstacle rather than an oracle.
Or take Joe McKendrick’s recent column on ZDNet looking at what employees are looking for from enterprise architects. You can’t go two sentences without tripping over words and phrases like governance, lifecycle management, shared processes, or best practices.
If anything, all this makes enterprise architects sound like cops – and worse, cops that nobody likes, kind of like the IT department’s own internal “abominable no men.” But the fact is that adhering to structure – like adhering to standards – requires consideration, and when IT is trying to serve the business, and the business is demanding answers quickly, it’s hard to be thoughtful. The business wants results, not a discussion of technological feng shui.
But I still maintain that the time to get organized is now. Here’s why: EA is evolving faster than we now. I’ve always contended that the cloud is not just the cloud. An enterprise architecture encompasses everywhere you run applications. That means the cloud is just another element of your enterprise architecture (ditto for mobile devices, another scary concept). In fact, I predict that we won’t even be using the term cloud in five years – it’ll be on-premises or off-premises, and even that won’t matter much. You’ll know more quickly where everything should go – attic, basement, you name it.
If you need a new year’s resolution, there’s really no better one than getting organized. It’ll only make keeping systems clean easier in the future.
Email CIO Next Community Manager Howard Baldwin if you’re a CIO who wants to spout off in an opinion piece on a technology-related issue.