Today, Jason Bloomberg of ZapThink released a blog entry entitled, “Why Nobody is Doing Enterprise Architecture”. A key point in the article is the statement, “Enterprises aren’t architected at all. They are grown.” Bloomberg goes on to describe that architects don’t terraform enterprises, but establish a framework for growth. I believe there is an aspect of this argument that is correct, however, I would argue that the issue is not with the activity, but with the name.
I met with Jim Stikeleather at the Department of Energy Information Management Conference in mid-March (2011). Jim is the Chief Innovation Officer for Dell Services and for those old enough to remember a founder of Technical Resource Connection (TRC), which was acquired by Perot Systems and one of the premier architecture and distributed computing shops during the mid-90’s. Jim and I had this exact conversation and my take on it was that business does not value enterprise architecture because it doesn’t understand enterprise architecture. That is, enterprise architecture itself is a poorly-defined and weakly agreed upon practice, but it is occurring.
I reiterated a story to Jim that I met with a customer that was looking at their infrastructure from a traditional siloed perspective. They were evaluating the network looking for performance optimizations and then would evaluate the servers and then the applications. I explained to them that they would certainly find things at each layer that they could improve, but that they would not see significant improvements if they didn’t examine the architecture in a holistic manner seeking to understand how the applications operating on the servers impacted the network. The customer looked at me like I had just explained to him out he could cure infections with Penicillin and turned to his staff and recommended to refocus their approach at improvement by looking at multiple dimensions at once.
Now, as far as I was concerned I had just recommended an enterprise architecture approach toward infrastructure optimization, but I never officially called it that with the customer and the customer immediately recognized the value. To wit, I recommended to Jim that once again terminology is getting in the way of value and that perhaps a better name for enterprise architecture might be multi-dimensional architecture. This latter terminology better captures the essence of the activity and doesn’t tie it to a particular scope—it can be as large or as small as it needs to be to accomplish the mission.
I believe that businesses engage in multi-dimensional architecture all the time. They design solutions that contain business processes, workflows, applications, user experiences, network connectivity, failover/recovery, etc. What’s more they consider the impact of any one particular aspect of the system on the rest of the system as a whole. To me that is what was designated by the term enterprise architecture when it was first, poorly, coined.