Is it Enterprise Architecture or Wall Art?

Enterprise ArchitectureJust last week, I visited a client for whom I had been consulting on-and-off for several years. On the meeting room wall, I saw their Enterprise Architecture portfolio, beautiful graphically designed and printed on a giant sheet of paper. My host proudly informed me how much she enjoyed putting that diagram together in 2009.

I jokingly reminded her of the famous notion of “art for art’s sake”; which is an appropriate phrase to describe what many architects are doing when populating frameworks. Indeed, when we refer to Enterprise Architecture, we must remember that the term ‘architecture’ is, itself, a metaphor.

In a tough economy, when competition is increasingly global and marketplaces are shifting, this ability to make tough decisions is going to be essential. Opportunities to save costs are going to be really valued, and architecture invariably helps companies save money. The ability to reuse, and thus rapidly seize the next related business opportunity, is also going to be highly valued.

The thing you have to be careful of is that if you see your markets disappearing, if your product is outdated, or your whole industry is redefining itself, as we have seen in things like media, you have to be ready to innovate. Architecture can restrict your innovative gene, by saying, “Wait, wait, wait. We want to slow down. We want to do things on our platform.” That can be very dangerous, if you are really facing disruptive technology or market changes.

Albert Camus wrote a famous essay exploring the Sisyphus myth called “The Myth of Sisyphus,” where he reinterpreted the central theme of the myth. Similarly, we need to challenge the myths of Enterprise Architecture and enterprise system/solution architecture in general – not meekly accept them.

IEEE says, “A key premise of this metaphor is that important decisions may be made early in system development in a manner similar to the early decision-making found in the development of civil architecture projects.”

Keep asking yourself, “When is what we built that’s stable actually constraining us too much? When is it preventing important innovation?” For many architects, that’s going to be tough, because you start to love the architecture, the standards, and the discipline. You love what you’ve created, but if it isn’t right for the market you’re facing, you have to be ready to let it go and go seize the next opportunity.

The central message is as follows: ‘documenting’ architecture in various layers of abstraction for the purposes of ‘completeness’ is plainly ridiculous. This is especially true when the effort to produce the artifacts takes such an amount of time as to make the whole collection obsolete on completion.