The point of enterprise architecture is to look beyond the silos and create a blueprint for the business' big-picture strategy.
As I've shared before, I'm somewhat confused about why, exactly, a discipline that originated in IT expects to be accepted as a sort of mastermind for designing business strategy. Isn't that what CIOs were supposed to be doing?
But I think a recent InformationWeek column may point out the true sweet spot for enterprise architecture, the place where its big-picture approach could really pay off: cloud computing. (Note: In this case, the article means the raw computing power you can rent via the cloud, and not simply SaaS solutions.)
Somewhat ironically, cloud computing may be the "killer app" for EA not because of the business, but because enterprise architects are uniquely positioned to see beyond IT's own traditional - and very siloed - approach to computing resources.
The column is by InformationWeek Editor-at-Large Charles Babcock and draws on a Cloud Expo presentation by Anthony Skipper, the vice president of infrastructure and security at ServiceMesh, a supplier of IT service management and lifecycle governance. Babcock's column builds on Skipper's presentation to create a list of seven "self-inflicted" wounds companies make with cloud computing.
The first such wound is organizations don't believe organizational change is needed to succeed with cloud computing. He quotes Skipper as saying an integrated cloud solution "is hard to do with an IT organization separated into fiefdoms based around storage, network, compute, and platform."
Enter the enterprise architect, who can transcend these silos. Writes Babcock:
The enterprise IT architect can play a key role in setting requirements for the cloud infrastructure and defining server templates. It's the architect's job to make choices that are best for the whole organization and come up with an integrated cloud computing plan that serves it. It's not easy, but implementing the new paradigm offers a chance of achieving an old goal: aligning IT services with the business.
Enterprise architects can also help companies avoid self-inflicted wound number six: getting addicted to the cloud. Skipper noted that the cloud can be a cost saver at first, but some companies have discovered it doesn't always scale economically. Sometimes, you're better off bringing your resources back in house or to another cloud vendor, but being able to do so will depend on how well you've planned ahead and whether you've built for portability, issues that should be covered under enterprise architecture practices.
Daniel Lawrence Spar, a technology strategist with Deloitte Consulting LLP, USA, also sees enterprise architecture as critical to using cloud computing. I interviewed him in May, coming off a presentation on architecting the cloud at the Open Group's conference in London. He explained why enterprise architecture, and in particular a data-driven approach to architecting the cloud, are so important.
In essence, it boils down to knowing what you've got, what you need and creating a good plan for bridging the two, and that's needed whether you're moving to the cloud or not. But for some reason, we seem to forget that when anything new like cloud computing comes along, before you know it, you're repeating the mistakes of the past.
Enterprise architecture can help you stop the insanity, according to Spar. He says:
If you want to approach things from the business side and architect the cloud, the first thing you need to architect is what the business needs from the cloud or from other related technologies; and in order to get there, you have to have architect the business operating model. I don't begin by saying, 'I'm going to architect this cloud,' because that's a technology solution in a box. Begin by saying, 'What does the business need to support its operating model? What would be the characteristics of that?'
...You have to define that in a very specific way and after you have that knowledge, then you can get into the specifics of what you need from the cloud to support your business.
Spar also helped me understand what EA brings to the business. As I pointed out to him, I think it's helpful to think about enterprise architecture as a verb - something you need to do - rather than focusing on the enterprise architect as a new position, even though practicing EA may require you to do just that, particularly as cloud computing becomes more widely used.