During the past two to three years, enterprise architecture has taken major strides forward. Like never before, CIOs are faced with justifying how technology supports business goals, both now and in the future. Mainstream Fortune 1000 businesses and federal agencies have adopted enterprise architecture as a way to incorporate their best practices and experiences into decisions about technology investments, compliance and emerging technologies, such as Web services, service-oriented architectures (SOAs) and business process management.

This has fostered a dramatic growth in enterprise architecture programs. CIOs can see that a properly implemented enterprise architecture program can have a direct impact on an organization's agility in meeting regulatory and market challenges. In turn, this has given rise to the concept of actionable architecture. In this view, the role of enterprise architecture is as a central access point for the capture and dissemination of IT and business process information throughout all levels of an organization as a means to improve decision making.

Rise of Actionable Architecture

The idea of actionable architecture takes enterprise architecture from being a goal, in and of itself, and moves it to becoming a platform for decision support. Architecture becomes the means to help IT move from analysis paralysis into action. Actionable architecture brings architecture to the forefront as a way to centralize and visualize relationships among systems, people, processes and data to make smarter decisions. By integrating these areas into one view, IT departments can make better decisions about areas ranging from technology investments and gap analysis to cost reductions and process efficiency.

New advancements in architecture tools and methodologies, such as visualization and Web publishing, provide a platform for improved IT analysis and communication. The repository forms an integrated strategic information base for powerful decision making, while supporting traceability of data down to the technical or source level.

Emphasis then shifts away from architecture ownership by a few IT people to broad information sharing, whether via the Web, spreadsheets or XML. Published information can be packaged and delivered to these different user groups: strategic (for investment strategy/portfolio management), operational (for business process support) and technical (for systems and applications, Web services support).

Today's trend toward actionable architecture offers a tremendous advantage to organizations in terms of embracing best practices and experiences, implementations and a full life cycle sharing of information to improve IT practices. The rise of industry architecture standards and methods, including frameworks, are furthering interoperability, communications and collaboration at the enterprise level.

Frameworks: Guiding Development

Frameworks are a key part of any enterprise architecture environment. They are a commonly accepted classification system for enterprise architecture, providing a complete checklist of the people, systems, processes, and internal and external factors that contribute to making an organization function.

Frameworks offer not only a standard approach and perspective, but a common vocabulary and a similar set of work products. Frameworks must be a key part of architecture design because they guide the technically complex process of integrating heterogeneous, multivendor architectures. They help simplify the architecture development process into discrete, understandable pieces and enable organizations to determine which systems and applications are tied to business needs. Frameworks enable different IT groups to understand their roles within the larger enterprise.

In the commercial world, two popular frameworks are Zachman, a conceptual framework, and The Open Group Architectural Framework (TOGAF), an open platform for developing process-driven architectures. In the federal world, there are frameworks such as the Department of Defense Architectural Framework (DoDAF), the newest evolution of the C4ISR framework.

Role of Standards

Standards are an important aspect of enterprise architecture. They promote data sharing, horizontal interoperability, accuracy and information assurance. They also represent best practices based on the combined knowledge of a community of industry experts.

Modeling standards range from the Unified Modeling Language (UML), entity relationship drawings, structured analysis and design, and the business process modeling notation (BPMN). The rise of Web services has resulted in the introduction of new standards, such as service-oriented architectures (SOAs).

SOAs enable the evolution from tightly coupled applications to network-based functionality. An SOA can be defined as a collection of many services that build into a larger business flow. Organizations can use SOAs to tie together disparate, heterogeneous, loosely coupled systems. They link software "artifacts" in a flexible, logical way that seamlessly supports daily business interactions between everyday applications such as documents, transactional applications and collaborative systems. SOAs enable systems to incorporate new functionality without limiting future choices. This, in turn, promotes organizational agility, productivity and efficiency and supports better, faster, less costly application construction.

Enterprise Architecture's Value in Decision Support

The use of enterprise architecture is expanding as organizations recognize its value as more than a tool for information capture. Organizations are placing increasing value on architecture as a way to gather and distribute valuable information to internal groups so they can take action. As mentioned, these areas include technology investments, portfolio management and other issues around aligning IT more closely to business.

The evolution of architecture is a result of the changing IT environment. Projects are evolving from single-technology solutions into broader enterprise initiatives that must show direct support of business goals. There are six areas where enterprise architecture can add significant value:

Financial Controls. Financial systems can no longer be standalone systems developed for singular purposes. They must tie to a broader business goal or strategy. Architecture offers a systematic approach to choosing, managing and evaluating IT investments. It provides common elements for each business phase to ensure a consistent and predictable flow of information. Architecture can help management allocate infrastructure costs against business cases. As organizations seek to meet regulatory requirements or improve agility during changing market conditions, the enterprise view gives executives the analysis they need about major systems development projects and infrastructure upgrades.

Portfolio Management. Portfolio management has emerged as a key IT initiative. Portfolio management can be defined as managing a set of IT assets over their life cycle. Evaluating a portfolio is a complex process where organizations explore the value of the future performance of the technology as well as the tradeoff between this value and the risk. Architecture helps organizations gather the information they need into a common format and develop a complete enterprise view of their IT infrastructure. Information about network configuration, applications and business process can be compiled and analyzed to answer questions about systems. Specifically, some architecture tools now offer visualization of relationship maps, scorecards and graphs tied directly to the IT infrastructure, making communication and collaboration much easier.

Communication. Often overlooked, communication is critical to actionable architecture. Enterprise architecture establishes a common platform for analysis and collaboration by providing a common vocabulary and common methodologies and techniques for development of a blueprint. With one common repository, information can be shared in an understandable format for analysis. Architecture information can be tailored to address the many different user perspectives. Publishing the information - whether on the Web or in simple paper reports - becomes a key part of the collaboration process and fosters feedback from various stakeholder groups, both within and outside IT.

Configuration/Process Transfer. Architecture has undergone a significant evolution in the area of application configuration. As companies look to automate how they transfer process knowledge, architecture can provide the means to transfer this information directly into the application via the practice of business process modeling. Architecture information can help an organization guide configuration of both applications and business processes. Architecture information provides an overview of the architecture, including processes, for migration. Technical analysts can understand the transfer of the information in an enterprise context.

This is possible because of the widespread adoption to two fairly new standards, the Business Process Modeling Notation (BPMN) and the Business Process Execution Language (BPEL). BPMN offers a standard representation that shows higher-level processes by merging elements across a wide variety of process semantics into a single notation.

More importantly, BPMN supports another new, widely adopted standard, BPEL, the XML glue that binds Web services into cohesive units. When BPMN is integrated with BPEL, the two support an "architecture to implementation" design cycle that enhances how business process management can be adopted into organizations. This integration is the means for integrating Web services into mainstream business applications and offers a whole new level of organizational agility that eases integration with external vendors using Web services. It standardizes application-to-application integration and extends integration to previously isolated systems. This platform-neutral solution lowers costs and offers a whole new level of agility in integrating with third parties.

Regulatory Compliance. Government mandates, whether Sarbanes-Oxley and Basel II in the business world or the Clinger Cohen Act or the Office Management of Budget (OMB) Exhibit 300 in the federal government, are placing more demands on organizations to track, analyze and share their financial and technology information. Executives increasingly need a strategic-level understanding of how technology is supporting financial processes, goals and the business case for technology investments and process improvements. The complexity of these mandates requires an enterprise view of an organization and the ability to extract discrete pieces from within the repository and assemble them into a compliance view.

Architecture enables users to extract information from the repository, assemble a compliance view, establish a repeatable process, validate process flow, provide analysis tools for operational decisions and publish information via Web reports or system-to-system via XML. Architecture enables organizations to consolidate their architecture and compliance efforts into one place and automate the gathering and generation of information. This enables organizations to better understand the changing requirements of these compliance regulations as part of their development process.

IT Architecture. Enterprise architecture is the next natural step in today's world. It ties together three different types of architecture into a cohesive view that crosses departmental boundaries. It ties data, application and business architectures together. Using one shared architecture platform, an enterprise reference architecture can be developed. This facilitates collaboration and a more global view of the organization from a strategic perspective. It provides a guideline for technology and investment for the entire organization as it evolves.

Actionable Architecture and Decision Support

Organizations are recognizing that a key to success is the ability to deliver the right information at the right time to the right person. The information must be delivered securely, reliably and in a timely manner. This is the goal of actionable architecture: to package information so a user can act upon it and understand its context within the enterprise.

Enterprise architecture is evolving from a technical practice in IT to a business tool that impacts all levels of an organization. Architecture development guidance using industry-proven frameworks and standards, combined with proven architecture, is essential to the development of successful enterprise architectures.

The "build and deploy" world of IT is slowly disappearing as organizations seek to leverage technology as a strategic asset. To fully participate in the changing landscape, organizations must be flexible and responsive enough to take into account emerging technologies and changing political and business environments.

For example, CIOs are increasingly being called to the boardroom to justify technology as a cost center and show how technology can be better utilized as a strategic asset. Additionally, they are being asked to explain how portfolio management and compliance programs tie to the success of the overall business. This trend is also apparent in the federal government, where IT budgets are now awarded based on business case justification. Federal CIOs require a clear understanding of IT's relationship to their goals and missions to receive funding.

CIOs, and all areas of IT, must now understand how their IT projects are transitioning into broader enterprise initiatives that drive the business success. That's where actionable architecture can add a strategic foundation for knowledgeable decision making based on facts. For any organization that wants to understand the relationships of its systems, data and people to its broader business goals, enterprise architecture can be a key enabler for action.

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