Enterprise Architecture Demystified

Mike Sakamoto, CTO, California Department of Health Care Services
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Mike Sakamoto, CTO, California Department of Health Care Services

Mike Sakamoto, CTO, California Department of Health Care Services

Is it the latest state building initiative or a set of guidelines for a science fiction series? Whatever ideas come to mind, the term Enterprise Architecture (EA) is being heard more frequently and with greater significance around the State over the last few years. Still, many have little idea what EA is or what it can mean for an organization.

 EA allows an organization to better evaluate whether proposed IT investments will result in meeting business needs and goals, or whether the investment will be more of a ‘nice to have’ 

EA is the description and documentation of an organization’s business processes and goals in the context of current and planned information technology (IT). In the simplest terms, an EA allows an organization to know how many computers it has and for what purposes, thereby providing a better idea as to how many computers are actually needed and whether there are too many, or not enough.

Think of it as a blueprint for the organization that allows decisions on business practices and IT investments to be made in alignment with the organization’s strategic goals, while also helping maximize the value received. The blueprint includes diagrams, models and documents describing the functions and goals of an organization – or “the enterprise” – and its IT systems. EA allows for better management of increasingly complex IT systems, while ensuring that those systems address an organization’s business goals and values.

Factors for Success

As with many available concepts and tools that are intended to help organizations easily achieve goals and improve business, EA is only as good as the effort dedicated to it. For EA to succeed, it must have the full support of executive leadership and controls in place throughout the organization.

Once adopted, the EA must be continually maintained to ensure the information remains current and thus useful.

Without support, compliance and maintenance, EA is nothing but a good concept with little practical application for the organization. But with that support, it’s possible for EA to significantly benefit an organization and its attempts to better manage and utilize IT for the business.

Striking a Balance

Effective use of EA is best described as a balance between innovation and anarchy.

An organization’s EA should not be so restrictive that it prevents innovation or consideration of IT solutions that do not fit within its structure. At the same time, the EA must be detailed enough, and have sufficient controls in place, to ensure IT efforts do not stray so far outside its bounds as to leave the EA unable to provide any of its intended benefits to the organization.

Value to the Organization

The value EA brings to an organization lies in the benefits derived from having an EA in place. These benefits include:

Efficiencies
System performance and compatibility
Ensuring efforts meet business needs

As an organization’s IT becomes more complex, it becomes more difficult to know where there may be duplication of sub-systems, hardware, software, or even intended purposes. Of course, where there is duplication, there is opportunity for efficiency, but, this efficiency can only be achieved when there is an understanding of all the pieces that make up an organization’s IT and where opportunities may lie.

It’s the components of EA that allow the complexity to be put into more manageable views and organized in ways, such as by business process, that allow for greater understanding and a corresponding improvement in decision making regarding the maintenance, creation and retirement of IT systems and their various elements.

Other Benefits

An EA can also benefit an organization by helping to provide the detail necessary to determine whether IT systems, either proposed or in place, operate in a manner that does not negatively impact other IT systems, or are of a design that does not fit within the organization’s skill sets and existing system designs. Without an EA and the corresponding detailed documents, an organization is at greater risk for undertaking IT projects that, while beneficial in concept, could result in significant integration or modification costs and provide benefits that could be accomplished within the bounds of one of those existing systems and with less associated cost.

Lastly, the benefit of EA can be realized through its use in guiding IT development and maintenance according to an organization’s business needs. By utilizing the various components of EA, an organization is better able to determine whether the existing IT infrastructure conforms to and furthers business objectives. Additionally, having an established EA allows an organization to better evaluate whether proposed IT investments will result in meeting business needs and goals, or whether the investment will be more of a “nice to have” and less of a true contribution to an organization’s lines of business.

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