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Sunday, January 08, 2006


Take a Holistic View

Vignesh Swaminathan blogged about Pain points of adopting enterprise architecture recently and made a number of comments about the evangelism displayed by various enterprise architects also describing some of the reasons that EA fails or is not taken seriously in organizations.

There are two fundemental problems in our line of work: a) as Vignesh states, enterprise architecture is sold to business and IT as a cure (along with the resultant expectations); and b) we try to be all things to all people - the business, IT development, IT operations, etc., and we realistically cannot.

Typically, these problems are addressed in the guise of evangelism - the pure view, the cure, and we (the enterprise architects) not only have the secret sauce, we are the only ones that can effectively use it. That is a recipe for large risk and eventual disaster, and always has been.

No wonder then, why many enterprise efforts fail. I suggest a different approach: taking a holistic view of architecture. Holism is defined in the dictionary as "the theory that living matter or reality is made up of organic or unified wholes that are greater than the simple sum of their parts." Why can't we take a similar stance with enterprise architectures?

Well, it has been tried to a degree, because that's how frameworks like Zachman, FEAF, and TOGAF evolved. The problem is evangelism crept in..slowly at first, then it became a crecendo. Some organizations that bought into enterprise architecture, got a strong dose of the 'religion,' and then had those efforts essentially fail turned their backs to it. With good reason, because while the frameworks are essentially sound, the approaches to them failed.

So, what to do about this? The simple answer (for a blog posting anyway) is to primarily concentrate on the business-technology interfaces (strategy-->processes-->technology) at a very high level with specific optimization goals that apply to that level only. Once that has been established, drilling down either way is not only encouraged, but necessary. The problem is that we get too bogged down on either side of the architcture spectrum and leave the other half wanting. That's why putting enterprise architects on development teams or aligning them too closely to the business doesn't work over the long-term.

This high level architecture shouldn't take months or years to develop, which is why its important to keep scope in-line and diligently focus on producing results in a short period of time. The process can be repeated over different swaths of the organization if one is dealing with large scope or a lot of complexity.

I've run into a lot of evangelists in my day - technical, religious, and political. With very limited exceptions, their message and efforts could never be sustained long-term. Then again, zealotry never gets anyone very far over the long haul either.

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