Orlando -- Widely pursued as it is, the topic of enterprise architecture is not something all experts are aligned on, even in definition.

“We talk about enterprise architecture yet we don’t even always agree what it is,” said Edwin Nassif, who moderated a panel at the Society for Information Management’s SIMposium 2011 in Orlando. “If we don’t agree, how do we convince anybody we’re working for … that we’re looking for business/IT alignment when we can’t get agreement among ourselves.

Four well-known enterprise architecture experts were tasked with describing and defining the topic in a single slide for the discussion: John Zachman of the Zachman Institute, Nancy Wolff, director IT strategies at Auxis, a Washington, D.C. consultancy, Leon Kappelman, Ph.D. author, from the University of North Texas, and Jeanne Ross, Ph.D. MIT Sloan School and director of MIT’s Computer Systems Resource Center.

Each expert’s slide was required to include the terms “enterprise,” “strategy,” “enterprise architecture,” “alignment” and “IT architecture” (in blue) From there, the flow charts plugged in elective words like “goals,” “projects,” “vision,” “governance” and “business plans” (in orange).

The individual slides described various structures that were critiqued first by the experts who created them, who nonetheless qualified their own representations of “enterprise architecture.”

Nancy Wolff – My most important concept is the functioning enterprise and I think we can lose sight of that when we’re doing enterprise architecture and IT governance. The enterprise is the execution, the culmination, the culture of our organization, how we make decisions, the outcomes, the mission we serve in governance. So I drew it to show that the actual execution occurs in the enterprise and all the other types of disciplines, strategic planning, enterprise architecture, IT governance, those are all things that should be impacting the enterprise.  

John Zachman – Architecture is a set of descriptive representations developed to describe a complex object, like an enterprise in our case … I do not believe enterprise architecture is arbitrary and it’s not negotiable. … There is a standard way to describe a complex object and there can be a bill of materials to describe what a thing is made out of. There are functional specs to describe how the thing works, the geometry of the drawing … those of us who come to the IT community to argue what architecture is, but basically as long as we keep arguing about what architecture is, we’re relegated to building and running systems, we’re never going to engineer enterprises … Enterprises of today are not engineered, they happen over long periods of time …   

Jeanne Ross – You can see in my slide that I put projects on top because I thought when we think about architecture, this is what it’s all about. We are talking about developing new organizational capabilities, we do that through our projects and those are projects that change the enterprise, which we can think of as a set of capabilities in action ... I put alignment at the bottom because I actually think that’s a loaded pistol ... Alignment is just causing terrible problems for organizations, not because not because it has to but because of the way we tend to do it. [Alignment] is a secondary effect, if you do everything else well you get the alignment, but don’t worry about it. What we want to worry about is the vision of what we want to be. This is our set of capabilities in action, what is it we want those capabilities to be?

Leon Kappelman – I see enterprise architecture as really being about communications … just like when you’re building a building, the architecture is how you communicate all the different specialists and subcontractors and what they’re supposed to do. And in creating that architecture, you do the governance of deciding what you need to do. So governance is really about the decision-making, the architecture is about the language of communication, the representation  … Alignment is a goal, so from strategy you decide whether you want alignment or whatever other goals there are ... I see governance an enterprise-wide set of decision processes and architecture being the language with which that is communicated.

That four longtime authorities couldn’t bring consensus to a term by which many jobs are currently described was telling, and Wolff says it’s up to individual organization to put flesh on the bones of this topic. “What we didn’t get to was the culmination of the concept of how difficult it is to communicate that organizations have a different definition of architecture strategy and IT governance. My suggestion to organizations is to actually bring real –life examples of events and scenarios that are happening in the organization to provide further meat to that discussion.”   
 
Said Kappelman, “We’re early to the game with this idea. This idea of taking a more holistic systematic approach to everything, not just organizations, is changing medicine, it’s changing business things like logistics, hopefully someday in our lifetimes it will change the way that government policy is made. We have to invent words and [even enterprise architecture] sounds way too much like engineering … I think we end up changing the words one day.”

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