Why enterprise architecture and IT are distinct
There are often misunderstandings about what enterprise architecture is and who it is for. Frequently we think in terms of databases, computing platforms, user credentials, and everything else which might need to be put in place for a modern, fully-fledged organizational infrastructure. In fact, the lines with IT may be blurred such that some businesses may not even be aware that they already use elements of enterprise architecture in their processes.
While the two are connected, however, there are key differences that set IT apart from enterprise architecture. Enterprise architecture does drive benefits within the IT framing, but it’s when we take a step back from this confinement that we see its true remit and full value.
Broadening business horizons beyond IT
To limit enterprise architecture to the IT function is to overlook the powerful value it can provide on a much broader level. In short, the information that people need to share and the infrastructure which enables that information to flow should not be thought of in isolation from one another – it’s about looking across the entire enterprise and identifying opportunities to optimize the way it operates. In doing this, the Enterprise Architect seeks to balance short, medium and (as far as can be determined) long-term business goals. Enterprise architecture is not exclusive to IT; instead, its role is to understand workflows and information flows across all departments in a way that’s modular, organized and defined by the business’s specific needs.
This is why the view of information across the business and how that information is structured is the essential foundation that informs and defines which tools and technologies will enable results. Understanding what it is necessary to know and what is unknown is a key enabler for the process of managing migration, implementation, and change to deliver a digital-first enterprise. The important distinction is that enterprise architecture represents a steady and growing shift in the delivery of digital capabilities out of the IT organization and into the broader business.
Enterprise architecture is an interactive process
The reality is that enterprise architecture too often functions as a specialism within IT. However, one way to draw the distinction is by thinking about the differences between IT and enterprise architecture in terms of information flow. The ability to store and share ideas and information has, and always will be, at the heart of business actions – and it’s something which we now deeply associate with IT. All of the technological infrastructure, however, means nothing without the context in which it operates. Focusing purely on IT forgets the importance of users, as well as the employees and customers who generate, share and utilize the information. Information can’t be useful if it exists in a vacuum – it needs to connect and permeate a business in a dynamic way that’s bespoke to its ecosystem, people and situation.
Enterprise architecture’s role is to enable information flow beyond just establishing the infrastructure. In considering and responding to the way in which systems interact with users and business processes, enterprise architecture is aligned to the long-term initiatives and stakeholders, as opposed to just the deployment of technology and tools alone.
What’s more, due to the varying nature of business needs and different industries, organizations must adapt to meet each relevant requirement and identify opportunities for strategic growth and change. Because contextual awareness is baked into its mindset, enterprise architecture is highly adaptive to external forces – an invaluable quality in today’s uncertain business landscape.
Supporting the strategic journey
Breaking free from the association of enterprise architecture with IT has merits aside from flexibility; when the perception is shifted and broadened, enterprise architecture’s value is opened up to a wider range of organizations. Regardless of the sector or size of the business, there will always be a benefit to having a method that ensures you’re consistently on the right path to meeting the business vision and having foresight of issues that could become blockers.
While governments and local authorities wouldn’t consider technology as their central function, that’s certainly not to say that they don’t rely on accurate information to drive business decisions and outcomes. This information is essential to how they improve efficiencies with citizen interactions, and to how they deliver services in a coordinated and equitable manner. By broadening the role of enterprise architecture here and in other organizational contexts, it’s possible to harness standards-based approach to service delivery that leads to consistently better outcomes.
As digitalization sweeps through every industry, it becomes evident that enterprise architecture is key to facilitating transformation and ongoing growth. With this in mind, taking a holistic view of information processes has a vital role to play in supporting business resilience, the ability to respond quickly to change, and the execution actions that benefit the entire organization.
By Chris Forde, General Manager, Asia Pacific Region, and VP, Enterprise Architecture, The Open Group