Introducing “Enterprise Architecture”

When you think of the word ‘architecture’, what are some words that come to mind? Perhaps you think of a style of building, a blueprint, or an area of study. Possibly the process of planning, designing, building and maintenance comes to mind. Precede the word with ‘enterprise’ and you are on the road to understanding what Enterprise Architecture (EA) is about.

EA is a formal process, as is the process of architecting and maintaining a building; and describes the business of an organization, as does a blueprint for a building. A blueprint or design must take into consideration many aspects or interrelationships of the functions of the building. When we build, buy, upgrade or introduce a change to a business process or technology, we often follow a process and document what we’re currently doing and how it will change. We might develop a plan for how we go from what we’re doing today to what we’d like to be doing tomorrow. These aspects of architecture are attributes of EA.

EA answers the interrogatives of what (things and data), how (processes), where (network), who (people or groups), when (events and times) and why (strategies and motivations). EA contributes to and enables a continuous improvement process for the organization.

In a nutshell, Enterprise Architecture can be defined as the formal description of the entire organization, typically focused on the documentation of the current state, the future state and the roadmap for moving from current to future.

Some of the benefits of EA include:

  • Enables business transformation: current state to target state
  • Business and IT alignment: architectural blueprint
  • Common business language
  • Enterprise-wide, pervasive
  • Disciplined practice: documenting/modeling
  • Uncover inefficiencies and increase effectiveness, ability to respond to change = agility

Agility is becoming more critical as we see that higher education is on the cusp of monumental change. Being able to realize the vision of the entire organization and aligning IT and business is something we all need to do.

Being able to communicate and use words that make sense across the organization is helpful and alleviates ambiguity.

Having consistency, standards and project management/systems development life cycle integration in and around documentation practices also improves the design, performance and value of the university’s systems and business processes. It can give us insights or improved visibility into the organization.

EA at uWaterloo

There are a number of critical factors for a successful EA program at uWaterloo.

  1. The IST Org for Success is realizing the importance of Enterprise Architecture with the identification of an EA group in IST, led by a Chief Enterprise Architect.
  2. Integration with our project management and systems development life cycle methodologies and identification of consistent check-points to ensure business and IT alignment will be key success factors.
  3. Good EA governance and full participation in EA across the university are critical to the effectiveness of the program.

These critical success factors, guiding principles, recommendations and next steps (e.g. how to initiate EA) are more fully documented in an EA Guide recently published by an EA working group and highlighted in a presentation on Enterprise Architecture given on May 31, 2013. The presentation also gives some practical examples for EA at uWaterloo.

We think architecturally every day. We’re good at it. Our abilities to manage projects and services are central to what we do. The Enterprise Architecture will help us capture an approximation for what we have today. We collectively design solutions and break apart the large problems, working to describe an ideal state for the university. Then we begin building.

Together we enable.

Thank you to our guest bloggers, Connie van Oostveen and Colin Bell.

See also: Enterprise Architecture: Part Two

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