Government Technology

Enterprise Architecture Demystified



September 24, 2008 By

For many agency heads or department managers, any mention of "Enterprise Architecture" causes emotional reactions ranging from fear to outright antagonism. Often enterprise architecture has come to mean "yet another IT project and expense which I don't have time for and from which I won't see any tangible results." For others, it is simply a checkbox that must be filled to get the money needed to get real work done.

But what is Enterprise Architecture really? And who is it intended to benefit?

Many complicated definitions and explanations could be presented, but at the core, enterprise architecture is very simple: it starts with the idea that one should plan technology purchases and development ahead of time and -- here's the important part -- that the business people, not technology people, should determine what is needed (the requirements).

The classic analogy in a non-high tech realm is building a home. Telling an architect to "build me a house!" is not nearly enough information. The architect needs details about how many people will live in it, what kinds of activities it needs to support, the quality of furnishings to use, how long it needs to last, , etc.

And those are just the high-level questions. A thousand and one details will need to be filled in below these by all the individual tradesman who help build the house.

You, as the owner, may not need or care to know that eight-penny finishing nails were used in one section of the kitchen cabinets whereas 10-penny were used elsewhere. What you do want to know is that the cabinets look good, have the shelving space that will serve your needs and that they will stay securely in place for the life of the house.

To carry the analogy a bit further, the architect may not start from scratch -- he or she may come to you with a series of predefined plans and ask you to suggest modifications to fit your needs. Such plans usually accommodate certain types of changes but may not allow for major alterations such as arbitrarily sticking an indoor swimming pool in the middle of the house.

When talking about building a house, it is obvious that the owner needs to set these kinds of high-level requirements: unless you have money to burn, don't care about schedules and don't really plan to live in the house anyway, you're going to want to give instructions to the architect and general contractor about what you need and want.

Enterprise Architecture is derived from the understanding that technology exists to fulfill business needs. Which technologies are chosen should not be a matter of "coolness" and is only partially a matter of cost: more properly it is a matter of what technologies get the job done. And what constitutes "the job" must, of course, be defined by the executive branch, the legislature, the agency head, etc., not by the technologists who, while perhaps experts at what they do, are often more interested and aware of bits and bytes than in agency purposes or political needs.

Of course, time enters into this as well. What "the job" is today may not be the same as it will be in five years. Today's technology need will definitely not be the technology need in five years. So the future always needs to be part of any enterprise architecture discussion.

So, how does the idea of enterprise architecture get so hard or seem to engender such resounding boredom (or worse)?

Although enterprise architecture represents the very same problems as building a house and even involves many of the same processes, several difficulties make it more difficult to grasp:

  • Usually, enterprise architecture doesn't start with an empty lot -- something's there and works to


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Comments

J. Zepp    |    Commented September 30, 2008

EA's is predicated on a naive world view that ignores the dynamic and evolving environment for information needs and technologies, which is further complicated by the decentralized decisionmaking and year-to-year budget cycles that public agencies must cope with. Perhaps in a steady state, ideal world there would be enough time and resources to develop and successfully implement a broad EA plan. But this approach simply seems to be a rehash of the Grand Design projects that failed so miserably in the 1980's. It's a shame that this profession has learned so little from past mistakes. One possibility not explored in this article is that the low regard for EA could be deserved. Improving government through better IT capabilities is a worthy goal. However, a more practical and realistic approach may be incremental change that satisfies users' immediate needs and seizes on the occasional opportunities for broader impacts.

J. Zepp    |    Commented September 30, 2008

EA's is predicated on a naive world view that ignores the dynamic and evolving environment for information needs and technologies, which is further complicated by the decentralized decisionmaking and year-to-year budget cycles that public agencies must cope with. Perhaps in a steady state, ideal world there would be enough time and resources to develop and successfully implement a broad EA plan. But this approach simply seems to be a rehash of the Grand Design projects that failed so miserably in the 1980's. It's a shame that this profession has learned so little from past mistakes. One possibility not explored in this article is that the low regard for EA could be deserved. Improving government through better IT capabilities is a worthy goal. However, a more practical and realistic approach may be incremental change that satisfies users' immediate needs and seizes on the occasional opportunities for broader impacts.

J. Zepp    |    Commented September 30, 2008

EA's is predicated on a naive world view that ignores the dynamic and evolving environment for information needs and technologies, which is further complicated by the decentralized decisionmaking and year-to-year budget cycles that public agencies must cope with. Perhaps in a steady state, ideal world there would be enough time and resources to develop and successfully implement a broad EA plan. But this approach simply seems to be a rehash of the Grand Design projects that failed so miserably in the 1980's. It's a shame that this profession has learned so little from past mistakes. One possibility not explored in this article is that the low regard for EA could be deserved. Improving government through better IT capabilities is a worthy goal. However, a more practical and realistic approach may be incremental change that satisfies users' immediate needs and seizes on the occasional opportunities for broader impacts.

J. Zepp    |    Commented September 30, 2008

EA's is predicated on a naive world view that ignores the dynamic and evolving environment for information needs and technologies, which is further complicated by the decentralized decisionmaking and year-to-year budget cycles that public agencies must cope with. Perhaps in a steady state, ideal world there would be enough time and resources to develop and successfully implement a broad EA plan. But this approach simply seems to be a rehash of the Grand Design projects that failed so miserably in the 1980's. It's a shame that this profession has learned so little from past mistakes. One possibility not explored in this article is that the low regard for EA could be deserved. Improving government through better IT capabilities is a worthy goal. However, a more practical and realistic approach may be incremental change that satisfies users' immediate needs and seizes on the occasional opportunities for broader impacts.

Mossar    |    Commented November 18, 2008

I agree with J. Zepp about EA being predicated on a naive world view; I would add that this fact is by choice. I have practiced EA for decades and I've concluded that the two main reason for its acceptance is one, denial and two, mental constipation. The reasons driving an EA project differ by the environment in which one lives; in the Private Sector, ROI is the driving force and results are expected quickly, so introducing EA into the business becomes fragmented. In the Public Sector, there is none; the mentality that exist is constricted and any amount of reason requires strong softeners to produce fluidity. Government is plagued by continuity blindness and the inability to predict if a given initiative will produced the desired result. Simply because every effort is self-sustaining and lacks inner connection with similar processes. Most common is that in a given agency, businesses do not understand the power of the data resource and how to develop a fluidity among related processes; in fact, individual processes do not know there exist other processes that can easily share resources thus reduce costs and be efficient and productive. Management knows of the shortcomings but don't bring these out for fear either require lengthy involvements or effort will hamper their retirement plans. Clamor from lower ranks go unheeded, these are dwarfed and fall into the 'as-is-vain' and don't insist. Regardless, an EA effort must start by the simplification of the business; IT involvement is to capture the definition of a business and the interlaced data resource tying processes. Functional decomposition practices define the business functions and the resources necessary to accomplish each business function. One very prominent aspect of this is the absence of software and firmware for a given solution; these definitions are independent and must be isolated from a given product, they must rely on the definition process. Nothing else. EA Project team must be trained in this methodology and must the approval of upper management and vested with the required authority to engage in the investigative process. Business lines personnel must be instructed that participation is essential and necessary regardless of other commitments. Seriousness must prevail at-all times so focus is not lost. if necessary, sequestering during the definition process may be necessary in order to make gains and maintain continuity. This not a light issue to deal with and businesses must embrace the fact that the only way to understand own affairs is to dedicate the time to extract the knowledge its employees own. It requires the majority's participation and their contribution must be assured. The participation far exceeds the expense by the return through time. It is said that the Federal Government has taken the lead but one thing is traditional in averting participation is the dictatorial attitude of the feds which contradicts any good intentions with ridance or lack of participation that slows all efforts. State and Local governments' attitude is to 'show' me or no dice. EA to be successful, all entities must show willingness to participate and realize the benefits to be harvested.

Mossar    |    Commented November 18, 2008

I agree with J. Zepp about EA being predicated on a naive world view; I would add that this fact is by choice. I have practiced EA for decades and I've concluded that the two main reason for its acceptance is one, denial and two, mental constipation. The reasons driving an EA project differ by the environment in which one lives; in the Private Sector, ROI is the driving force and results are expected quickly, so introducing EA into the business becomes fragmented. In the Public Sector, there is none; the mentality that exist is constricted and any amount of reason requires strong softeners to produce fluidity. Government is plagued by continuity blindness and the inability to predict if a given initiative will produced the desired result. Simply because every effort is self-sustaining and lacks inner connection with similar processes. Most common is that in a given agency, businesses do not understand the power of the data resource and how to develop a fluidity among related processes; in fact, individual processes do not know there exist other processes that can easily share resources thus reduce costs and be efficient and productive. Management knows of the shortcomings but don't bring these out for fear either require lengthy involvements or effort will hamper their retirement plans. Clamor from lower ranks go unheeded, these are dwarfed and fall into the 'as-is-vain' and don't insist. Regardless, an EA effort must start by the simplification of the business; IT involvement is to capture the definition of a business and the interlaced data resource tying processes. Functional decomposition practices define the business functions and the resources necessary to accomplish each business function. One very prominent aspect of this is the absence of software and firmware for a given solution; these definitions are independent and must be isolated from a given product, they must rely on the definition process. Nothing else. EA Project team must be trained in this methodology and must the approval of upper management and vested with the required authority to engage in the investigative process. Business lines personnel must be instructed that participation is essential and necessary regardless of other commitments. Seriousness must prevail at-all times so focus is not lost. if necessary, sequestering during the definition process may be necessary in order to make gains and maintain continuity. This not a light issue to deal with and businesses must embrace the fact that the only way to understand own affairs is to dedicate the time to extract the knowledge its employees own. It requires the majority's participation and their contribution must be assured. The participation far exceeds the expense by the return through time. It is said that the Federal Government has taken the lead but one thing is traditional in averting participation is the dictatorial attitude of the feds which contradicts any good intentions with ridance or lack of participation that slows all efforts. State and Local governments' attitude is to 'show' me or no dice. EA to be successful, all entities must show willingness to participate and realize the benefits to be harvested.

Mossar    |    Commented November 18, 2008

I agree with J. Zepp about EA being predicated on a naive world view; I would add that this fact is by choice. I have practiced EA for decades and I've concluded that the two main reason for its acceptance is one, denial and two, mental constipation. The reasons driving an EA project differ by the environment in which one lives; in the Private Sector, ROI is the driving force and results are expected quickly, so introducing EA into the business becomes fragmented. In the Public Sector, there is none; the mentality that exist is constricted and any amount of reason requires strong softeners to produce fluidity. Government is plagued by continuity blindness and the inability to predict if a given initiative will produced the desired result. Simply because every effort is self-sustaining and lacks inner connection with similar processes. Most common is that in a given agency, businesses do not understand the power of the data resource and how to develop a fluidity among related processes; in fact, individual processes do not know there exist other processes that can easily share resources thus reduce costs and be efficient and productive. Management knows of the shortcomings but don't bring these out for fear either require lengthy involvements or effort will hamper their retirement plans. Clamor from lower ranks go unheeded, these are dwarfed and fall into the 'as-is-vain' and don't insist. Regardless, an EA effort must start by the simplification of the business; IT involvement is to capture the definition of a business and the interlaced data resource tying processes. Functional decomposition practices define the business functions and the resources necessary to accomplish each business function. One very prominent aspect of this is the absence of software and firmware for a given solution; these definitions are independent and must be isolated from a given product, they must rely on the definition process. Nothing else. EA Project team must be trained in this methodology and must the approval of upper management and vested with the required authority to engage in the investigative process. Business lines personnel must be instructed that participation is essential and necessary regardless of other commitments. Seriousness must prevail at-all times so focus is not lost. if necessary, sequestering during the definition process may be necessary in order to make gains and maintain continuity. This not a light issue to deal with and businesses must embrace the fact that the only way to understand own affairs is to dedicate the time to extract the knowledge its employees own. It requires the majority's participation and their contribution must be assured. The participation far exceeds the expense by the return through time. It is said that the Federal Government has taken the lead but one thing is traditional in averting participation is the dictatorial attitude of the feds which contradicts any good intentions with ridance or lack of participation that slows all efforts. State and Local governments' attitude is to 'show' me or no dice. EA to be successful, all entities must show willingness to participate and realize the benefits to be harvested.

Mossar    |    Commented November 18, 2008

I agree with J. Zepp about EA being predicated on a naive world view; I would add that this fact is by choice. I have practiced EA for decades and I've concluded that the two main reason for its acceptance is one, denial and two, mental constipation. The reasons driving an EA project differ by the environment in which one lives; in the Private Sector, ROI is the driving force and results are expected quickly, so introducing EA into the business becomes fragmented. In the Public Sector, there is none; the mentality that exist is constricted and any amount of reason requires strong softeners to produce fluidity. Government is plagued by continuity blindness and the inability to predict if a given initiative will produced the desired result. Simply because every effort is self-sustaining and lacks inner connection with similar processes. Most common is that in a given agency, businesses do not understand the power of the data resource and how to develop a fluidity among related processes; in fact, individual processes do not know there exist other processes that can easily share resources thus reduce costs and be efficient and productive. Management knows of the shortcomings but don't bring these out for fear either require lengthy involvements or effort will hamper their retirement plans. Clamor from lower ranks go unheeded, these are dwarfed and fall into the 'as-is-vain' and don't insist. Regardless, an EA effort must start by the simplification of the business; IT involvement is to capture the definition of a business and the interlaced data resource tying processes. Functional decomposition practices define the business functions and the resources necessary to accomplish each business function. One very prominent aspect of this is the absence of software and firmware for a given solution; these definitions are independent and must be isolated from a given product, they must rely on the definition process. Nothing else. EA Project team must be trained in this methodology and must the approval of upper management and vested with the required authority to engage in the investigative process. Business lines personnel must be instructed that participation is essential and necessary regardless of other commitments. Seriousness must prevail at-all times so focus is not lost. if necessary, sequestering during the definition process may be necessary in order to make gains and maintain continuity. This not a light issue to deal with and businesses must embrace the fact that the only way to understand own affairs is to dedicate the time to extract the knowledge its employees own. It requires the majority's participation and their contribution must be assured. The participation far exceeds the expense by the return through time. It is said that the Federal Government has taken the lead but one thing is traditional in averting participation is the dictatorial attitude of the feds which contradicts any good intentions with ridance or lack of participation that slows all efforts. State and Local governments' attitude is to 'show' me or no dice. EA to be successful, all entities must show willingness to participate and realize the benefits to be harvested.

EAnonymous practitioner chaffing at the waste!    |    Commented December 30, 2008

EA is misunderstood, I agree. It is also a possibility that at some govt sector EA itself has become a dinosauer! There are armies conducting EA work for 5-8yrs. Govt has a way of continuation.. Projects and people have a way of continuing, at the expense of ROI, real benefit to the business and IT operations!

EAnonymous practitioner chaffing at the waste!    |    Commented December 30, 2008

EA is misunderstood, I agree. It is also a possibility that at some govt sector EA itself has become a dinosauer! There are armies conducting EA work for 5-8yrs. Govt has a way of continuation.. Projects and people have a way of continuing, at the expense of ROI, real benefit to the business and IT operations!

EAnonymous practitioner chaffing at the waste!    |    Commented December 30, 2008

EA is misunderstood, I agree. It is also a possibility that at some govt sector EA itself has become a dinosauer! There are armies conducting EA work for 5-8yrs. Govt has a way of continuation.. Projects and people have a way of continuing, at the expense of ROI, real benefit to the business and IT operations!

EAnonymous practitioner chaffing at the waste!    |    Commented December 30, 2008

EA is misunderstood, I agree. It is also a possibility that at some govt sector EA itself has become a dinosauer! There are armies conducting EA work for 5-8yrs. Govt has a way of continuation.. Projects and people have a way of continuing, at the expense of ROI, real benefit to the business and IT operations!


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