Almost every large government agency or Global 2000 company is struggling to properly manage their enterprise information technology (IT) architecture. This difficulty is the direct result of the highly distributed, disjoined and overly expensive IT environments that currently exist throughout our industry. This situation has resulted in the reemergence of corporations looking to establish truly proactive enterprise architecture organizations. In this month's column, I will discuss enterprise architecture and how it is tied to an enterprise meta data management initiative.

Importance of Enterprise Architecture

The goals for any organization's enterprise architecture will differ slightly from one organization to another; however, there are some common themes that I see enterprise architecture teams grappling with. First, these teams want to reduce/prevent redundant or even unnecessary IT applications from being developed. This issue of application redundancy is a significant problem that has a profound negative impact on a company's IT budget. Second, it is common for these teams to try to enable data reuse. Traditionally, IT professionals have been notorious for reinventing the wheel. There is minimal to almost no data reuse in the majority of corporations. When a new application is deemed necessary, typically the IT team tasked with building the system will look to construct each and every entity from scratch, as opposed to reusing work that has already been accomplished. Third, enterprise architecture teams often set system architecture standards that need to be followed throughout the organization. These standards will vary greatly from firm to firm; however, standards around data integration, data movement, messaging, data warehousing and the system development life cycle are the most common standards that these enterprise architecture teams strive to define. Fourth, many times the very first task that these enterprise architecture teams look to achieve is the design and construction of an enterprise-wide meta data repository. The reason that these teams target a meta data management application is that they view this application as the technological means to manage and enforce their enterprise architecture practices.

Meta Data Management's Importance to Enterprise Architecture

All too often, enterprise architecture teams are trying to, from an enterprise perspective, manage their IT systems' Microsoft Excel spreadsheets and Word documents. Obviously, this low-tech approach to managing highly complex technical environments tends to be less than successful. In general, the more successful enterprise architecture teams realize that it is the meta data repository that will provide them with the technical "teeth" that they need to be successful. For example, a meta data repository plays a vital role in the establishment and enforcement of enterprise architecture standards. Suppose that the enterprise architecture team wants to enforce standardized names for physical entities and attributes. The meta data repository can be used as a persistent store for those standards. Then, the repository can provide access to those standardized names through its front end. Therefore, all of the development teams can access the standards to ensure that their new entities and attributes conform to them. In addition, a repository provides the development teams with the capability to request/post new entities and attributes to be added to the standard.

Clearly, without a solid enterprise-level meta data repository, the task of the enterprise architecture team is highly difficult. Moreover, I believe that most world-class enterprise architecture teams have the support of a world-class enterprise-level meta data repository. Similarly, most world-class enterprise-wide meta data repositories support an enterprise architecture team. When I founded EWSolutions in 1997, we had a two-pronged focus of data warehousing development and meta data repository implementation. However, after a few years of working with many different clients, we realized that we had to add a third area of excellence – enterprise architecture. Essentially, the majority of the time that we were building meta data repositories, we also had to establish enterprise architecture teams.

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