Enterprise Architecture in a Brave New World
What can a 21st century Enterprise Architect learn from a Roman soldier?
2020 marks the 25th anniversary of the publication of the TOGAF specification, with some 100,000 people worldwide with some form of TOGAF certification
In the first century BC, the Roman soldier and architect, Vitruvius, laid down the three fundamentals of good architecture: firmitas, utilitas, and venustas or for those like me, whose state school education didn’t extend to Latin: strength, utility, and beauty.
It wasn’t until 1987, that John Zachman appropriated the term architecture to describe the logical construct for the way information systems are designed and controlled. As a thirty something year-old discipline, Enterprise Architecture is, in wider architectural terms, still in its infancy. So, I got to thinking – can a classical architect help define what EA looks like in our brave new world?
I often find that when introducing myself as an Enterprise Architect, I am immediately boxed into the “oh, you understand all the hardware and infrastructure stuff” bracket. Perhaps because, in the days before everybody had “architect” in their job title, there were only “Technical” Architects. Enterprise Architecture (or EA) though, is a much broader discipline both in its scope and its coverage, and maybe Vitruvius’ three qualities might help to define what EA is really about…
For a number of years, when describing the role of an enterprise architect, to those outside the IT industry, I would use the phrase “I am to IT systems what an architect is to buildings”. This would then result in a discussion about ensuring that systems can cope with the stresses and strains that get placed on them. Clearly it is a significant part of the architect’s role to ensure that our systems and processes are resilient and capable of meeting the performance and stability requirements that modern business demands.
Organisations are becoming ever more reliant on their IT to do business. It’s a sobering thought to realise that the world’s largest taxi business doesn’t own a single taxi, its business is its IT. Strength and resilience are increasingly the concern of the architect: How much traffic can we handle? How quickly can we recover?, and perhaps the most pressing question for 21st century business: How secure is my data?
Perhaps Vitruvius’s most famous work is his inspiration for Da Vinci’s “Vitruvian Man”. For Vitruvius, understanding how a building should be constructed must first start with understanding the dimensions and proportions of those who must use it.
If an organisation’s services cannot be accessed easily and securely, it will find itself losing ground to those who focus on usability. While user interface and user experience designers are at the forefront of the end user interactions, it is the enterprise architect’s role to ensure that the underlying processes and services make such interactions possible.
But humans aren’t the sole actors on our organisations and their systems. With the rise of the API economy, enterprise architects have found themselves having to consider how we can make business, application and technical services accessible and usable for both internal users and third parties. We need to understand how other organisations can interact with the enterprise, and how to make our services pluggable to business engines, federation capabilities and external platforms.
While it might be relatively easy to see correlation with the concepts of strength and utility, surely beauty is well beyond the remit of the enterprise architect! But what if we ask ourselves the question “what makes an organisation attractive to customers, partners, investors or employees?”.
In establishing the motivation and strategy layers of Archimate™ modelling, it is my experience that enterprise architects have an increasing ability to shape the external appeal of an organisation.
Some of the more interesting conversations I find myself in are the ones that are exposed from this layer of architecture modelling: How do our services reflect our corporate values? How well do we perform across our key capabilities? What are the business drivers we need to focus on?
At this level of architectural maturity, an architect truly steps beyond the realm of Technical Architect and into the full responsibility of an Enterprise Architect.
Enterprise Architecture has come a long way since the TOGAF specification was first published in 1995. TOGAF itself is now at version 9.2 and the standard continues to be developed and enhanced and with it so does the role of the enterprise architect.
By defining the fundamentals of architecture, Vitruvius provided a framework on which buildings, towns and cities could be constructed. In so doing those structures both reflected and shaped the way our societies developed. Right now, enterprise architecture is at the heart of shaping our new digital world. How your customers engage with your digital business will be largely determined by the architectural foundations you build upon.
So perhaps next time someone asks what I do for a living, I’ll tell them, “I’m shaping the digital future by helping organisations to be more resilient, easier to work with and generally more attractive.”
 Zachman, John A. (1987). “A framework for information systems architecture”.
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Author: Alan Capewell
Disclaimer – opinions expressed in the text belong solely to the author, and not necessarily to the author’s employer or organisation.