Enterprise architecture (EA) befuddles me. As far as I can ascertain, it began as an IT function, but at some point, it was decided that EA is bigger than IT and really needs to work with the business as a business function. I have no idea if this decision came from analysts studying best practices or, as I secretly suspect, from the EAs themselves.
Either way, it's a pretty gutsy thing for IT to birth a new job function and then tell the business how much it needs to adopt that job function. And I'm surprised the business listens. How would you act if accounting sent up some guy bearing the title "Tabulation Architect" and informed you he'd be helping you figure out what needs to change so IT can function better?
I'm even more confused after reading something like this recent post by ZapThink's Jason Bloomberg, which is provocatively titled, "Why Nobody is Doing Enterprise Architecture." Bloomberg points out you can't architect something that already exists:
... nobody is doing enterprise architecture. The truth of this bold statement is quite obvious when you think about it. Where does enterprise architecture take place today? In enterprises, of course. That is, existing enterprises. And you don't architect things that already exist. Architecture comes before you build something! Can you imagine hiring an architect after building a bridge or a building?
It's a fine point. He goes on to say that instead, architects try to fix what's broken using best practices and yadda yadda-it's way more interesting to EAs, I'm sure. But here's the rub: There are a slew of comments, some of which purport to agree then add a big "but" while others outright disagree.
After a while, I started to wonder why in the world anyone would want to sit down with an enterprise architect when they spend so much time arguing over the very meaning of their own discipline!
But I must confess, I've had my doubts about EA, even though I've written several times about how the discipline can reduce integration work. So, I was pleasantly surprised to read this recent Internet Revolution Q&A in which Del Monte CIO Marc Brown praises enterprise architecture for its integration value:
Our enterprise architecture value lies in the reduction of the integration and data "complexity tax." As the degree of integration and the intensity of information demand continue to increase, each subsequent capability implementation is faced with a "complexity tax" involving impact assessment, architectural design, and ongoing support. Enterprise architecture can provide the disciplines and basis to ensure that we minimize these additional overheads in order to speed up delivery and success rates.
It's always interesting and, I think, useful to learn how a non-technology-sector company benefits from "newer" IT best practices. Brown also talks about Del Monte's use of virtualization, federated cloud computing platforms and an internal cloud. The company's progressive IT practices seem to be paying off, too: The article notes that Del Monte tripled its profit margin and saw a 600 percent increase in net revenue during the past 10 years.
So, EA seems to be paying off in terms of more efficient integration, at least at Del Monte.
If you'd like to learn more about EA and integration, you might want to check out the recently released schedule for Gartner's 2011 Enterprise Architecture Summit, which is scheduled for June 22-23 in California.