Why There is Scope for More Research in Enterprise Architecture
By Roderick Lim Banda

Enterprise Architecture (EA) is an evolving discipline. There is a need for ongoing research to ensure that we keep up with global trends. More importantly we need to gain a better understanding of our own local context in order to develop the architecture of the South African and African enterprise.

In the last century of modernism, western society was pre-occupied with balancing life between man and machine. Post industrialization was ushering in a new era of technological advancement and an age of machinery. In the postmodern world we face a daunting challenge to balance human life with our natural environment. In this century we need to reverse the negative impact of industrialization on our planet. We are likely to see continuing changes that blur the boundaries of our traditional social structures. Technology and social innovation is blurring the lines that define the enterprise, households and the knowledge worker.

Are we seeing a natural shift towards a new form of social enterprise? Is there an indication that global trends will cause a more intensive search for alternatives to modern western models? Is there an opportunity for the African continent to develop new knowledge based on a better understanding of itself? Can Africa provide the model for a postmodern social enterprise based on a better understanding of belief systems and practices that have been borne from natural patterns as the basis for quality and aesthetics as opposed to western notions and standards based on geometry and structured modernist thinking?

The Vitruvian Architect

Much of what we know about architecture intensive disciplines and the role of an architect is based on a foundation of social pre-occupation in building and engineering. Vitruvius, the Roman-era author, defined the 3 qualities of architecture as firmitas, utilitas, venustas. It is a time-less model for all architecture intensive disciplines in the knowledge economy.

Venustas refers to beauty and aesthetics. It is closely associated with human intelligence. The Greek architects maintained the balance between government and civil society in an era where buildings were an integral part of social rituals. Architects should be able to make trade-off decisions that balance present and future needs. Quality should be defined in governance, standards, values, principles and practices. Enterprise architects endeavour to align the enterprise with the dynamic social world and a constantly changing environment.

Utilitas refers to functionality and goodness in humans. It is associated with practical application and purpose. The Egyptian architects were designers and supervisors that defined the role in the Patron-Architect-Builder model. Architects should be able to interpret values such as "the use of light" and "agility" into construction. Business architects focus on strategic alignment, program and change management, governance, organisational development and business process management.

Firmitas refers to stability, durability and strength as a means of measuring the quality of a structure. It is associated with technical construction. Roman architects were military engineers and possessed technically advanced methods and skills. Architects should be technically competent, embrace complexity, abstract the detail of parts while maintaining the view of the whole. Technology architects must have a sound understanding of complex hybrid environments to deliver stable yet agile solutions.

An Evolving Discipline and Body of Knowledge for Aspiring CIOs

EA is multi-disciplinary involving knowledge of socio-economics, business strategy, industry sectors, the nature of public and private enterprises, business management, information technology, systems development as well as the creative design and innovation process. As EA continues as a discipline and profession, we will see the body of knowledge in EA over the next few years expanding and focusing on three main knowledge domains: Holistic Enterprise Architecture, Business Architecture and Technology Architecture. EA is evolving from technology to business architecture and will advance towards a holistic and converged discipline moving from the concerns of internal alignment towards the relationship of the enterprise in its external environment and society.

Every enterprise has an architecture irrespective of whether or not it has a defined Enterprise Architecture program. A well-documented architecture is a logical organization of information pertaining to the following multi-level, multi-dimensional, enterprise-wide elements:

  • Strategic goals, objectives and measures
  • Business processes, services, transactions and rules
  • Information and data requirements
  • Application systems
  • Relationships between applications and data elements
  • Technology infrastructure

Why is Enterprise Architecture a demanding and relevant discipline relevant to the development of the CIO? Because it involves the development of:

  • Cognitive skills applied to abstraction, visual modeling, analysis and design.
  • Inter-personal skills to interact with stakeholders who have specific perspectives and view points.
  • Ability to develop a technical understanding and experience with complex systems and technology.
  • The ability to share knowledge, communicate, mentor and educate.
  • It demands leadership, inter-personal skills and management capability.

A Need for Local Research and an African Context

Enterprises in Africa require an "organic", natural and more human-centric approach to architecture that is relevant to its socio-economic environment. Organic enterprise architecture is centered around social responsibility, community and business within the context of its environment. It is not a technology or IT driven initiative but follows a Social-Enterprise-Systems model. Organic or Natural Enterprise Architecture focuses on aligning enterprises with their external environment and aligning the internal business and IT capacity based on natural, social and human centric patterns. There is a need for research and the development of a body of knowledge for architecting enterprises in Africa.

Much of the global body of knowledge in EA is based on western, modernist and engineering principles. The Zachmann Frameworks was based on the organization of the thousands of parts of a Boeing airplane and is intended to provide a form of information classification that can be applied to the complex nature of the enterprise. Computing machinery was borne at the height of modernism. Modernist thinking in IT is reflected in the traditional structured approach that is based on geometric aesthetics rather than the natural way of thinking. In contrast, the pursuit of harmony with its natural environment has been the foundation of African rationalization and beliefs.

Social Research, Strategy, Alignment, Governance and Business Architecture

The research scope of business architecture spans the development of strategies in response to the external business environment to the underlying structures that enable the implementation of strategies. This internal alignment includes high level as well as detailed business and systems analysis and design. Business architecture is closely associated with program and change management, governance, maturation and organisational development. If information is a fundamental building block of business architecture then business processes represent the organic network. The hierarchichal and network model of business processes evolves as the organic vine that binds various business and technology elements.

EA will help us to develop our understanding of strategy and alignment. There are a number of focus areas of interest to us in the relationship between business architecture and strategic alignment. Firstly, the development of Strategic Frameworks. The development of a strategic framework represents the structure on which strategic planning and the formulation of critical statements (goals, objectives, targets, outcomes, impacts, etc.) is based. It also provides for a holistic method of performance management and results based monitoring and evaluation. This can be applied to public and private enterprises in policy formulation or strategic planning and implementation. Secondly, we need to develop our capacity to "connect the dots" and "Strategy Mapping" (Norton and Kaplan). Strategic mapping ensures that strategies cascade and are associated with all relevant business elements such as programs, projects, business processes, capital investments, operations, organisational development and human capital development.

Ongoing changes in the legislative environment, industry and technology and ways in which enterprises can manage this change is an area of interest to the development of the business architecture. What would any sport be without referees and players? Key to an effective and enabling business architecture are the structures representing governance and organisation. Governance and in particular standards are essential building materials for the practicing EA. Human capital development is also an essential knowledge domain for an EA. Technology is no substitute for organisational and human capacity and will not guarantee success. Organisational development and human capital development is integral to building capacity for the delivery of services. Developing a framework of values, principles and practices compliments the formulation of policies, procedures and standards to ensure compliance and delivery of quality. Business architects need to also develop program management, change management and risk management skills.

The business process architecture represents the cohesion between the business architecture elements: strategic objectives, indicators, organisation, human, information, systems and technology. Business process modeling is an important skill that should be taught at undergraduate level. This forms a critical part of the program for developing skills. Modeling techniques and methods such as the Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) are essential to analysis and design of process and information specification. We need more research into sector based business processes to develop business process hierarchies linked to the approaches developed by Kaplan and Norton on the Balance Scorecard, Alignment and Strategy Mapping.

The Organic Enterprise Information Model (OEIM) represents a departure from the matrix of the Zachman Framework to provide an information model for an enterprise using a 12 point circle. Each point is a root of an evolving hierarchy that defines other underlying information elements, entities and/or objects:

  • Environment
  • Strategy
  • Program
  • Finance
  • Organisation
  • Governance
  • Human
  • Process
  • System
  • Infrastructure
  • Portfolio
  • Customer

Technology as an Evolving Anatomy and Not Just a Taxonomy

In relation to enterprise architecture, technology architecture includes the following: application systems; relationships between applications and data elements; and technology platforms and infrastructure. This should be more than just an information gathering and mapping exercise. We should encourage research in a wide range of technology domains rather than attempting to evangelize one knowledge domain at the expense of another. Our research focus should be on areas that are knowledge and skills intensive. These areas also represent fields that we can develop competencies in and which provide opportunities for innovation and skills transfer.

EA is platform neutral and is important in hybrid or mixed technology environments where the lack of EA can lead to chaos. Most large enterprises cannot avoid the situation of supporting or maintaining an infrastructure and technology environment made up of disparate and specialised systems. The key is in skills and not technology. Working with platform technology partners, open standards, architecture frameworks and developing skills across multiple platforms, the complexity of any hybrid environment can be managed. The key is in developing platform independent models and platform specific models, reference architectures and implementations. The challenge will be to change the way we think of technology and organizational boundaries as enterprise systems integrate with external systems and cloud computing and mobility become a more pervasive way of working.

Just as the kidney is but one part of the human body, each new technology to emerge forms an element of the complex whole. The hype factor in IT is well known. With the emergence of each new technology or concept, come the evangelists that proclaim that this will replace and surpass everything else that has come before it. Consider for instance that despite predictions of its complete demise, the mainframe is still with us. We need to embrace the evolving complexity of hybrid environments rather than relying heavily on simplification and the development of geometric abstracts that become irrelevant visual and mental models. We need to embrace the evolving nature of complexity and realize that technology professionals must invest in learning and knowledge creation with the same or even greater intensity than those in the medical profession. Technology is an evolving anatomy and not just a taxonomy.