Enterprise architecture in the context of information technology (IT) describes the interaction of elements of information technology and business activities in the company. It differs from terms such as information architecture or software architecture by taking a holistic view of the role of information technology in the company. This is often accompanied by a higher degree of abstraction. The corporate strategy or IT strategy is predefined and is detailed in the enterprise architecture initiative. An enterprise architecture initiative always starts from the top management level.
In some cases, the enterprise architecture only means the key processes and their IT needs. In this case, this is created by the company management without the involvement of IT. In this case, the development of the strategy and the IT strategy is part of the enterprise architecture development. Contrary to their name, enterprise architectures are not limited to enterprises, but are also used by governments and the military.
In recent years, the term has evolved and is also used in connection with increasingly complex business environments for the construction or design of formal and informal corporate structures. The targeted combination of different consulting fields such as change management, diagnostics, corporate culture development and personnel development support the establishment of these structures and promote sustainable corporate development. A distinction is made between two types of enterprise architecture:
- Type 1 architectures deal with the description of the enterprise architecture at a specific point in time (snapshot).
- Type 2 architectures focus on the process of evolving the enterprise architecture.
Description of Enterprise Architecture
The business architecture looks at the business processes and the business objects of the company. Business process architecture is the result of business process modeling.
In the information and data architecture, the data and its relationships are identified and described, which are required for the execution of the business processes. This is done in a model and a form of representation that is stable, complete, consistent and understandable for all participants (see data model). The information architecture represents information, information groups and their information needs. Information groups are different roles that have the same information needs (for example, controllers).
Within the application architecture, the applications that are required to run the business processes are managed. In addition to the inventory management of all applications, the relationships and interfaces between the applications are also considered within the framework of the application architecture. The applications are categorized according to their technical functionality and the information they process. These categories are relatively stable. The specific applications used within the categories are replaced more frequently. This change results from technical development and changed requirements.
The technology architecture describes the architectural elements for setting up and operating the IT infrastructure. It defines the basis on which applications can be procured, integrated and operated.
Depending on point of view, these basic architectures can be supplemented by further architectures.
Goal of Enterprise Architecture
An enterprise architecture should ensure the alignment of the company’s IT with the business goals. It presents the individual architectures and their relationships in order to make the complexity manageable. This should make the company’s IT more flexible. In addition, IT investments should be better evaluated and unnecessary investments avoided. Furthermore, the enterprise architecture can be used for the education and training of employees. Especially during mergers and acquisitions – but also when splitting a company into several companies – enterprise architectures can provide valuable services and save time and money.
Another goal of the enterprise architecture is the standardization of components in IT system landscapes. As a result, an increased compatibility of the components to each other and a reduced time to market for new or adapted services and solutions can be created. As a result, comprehensive business transformations can be achieved faster. Further goals are a better recognition of dependencies and the reduction of redundancies of individual components and building blocks. Since the enterprise architecture also enables indirect relationships and the analysis of possible effects of decision alternatives, decision-making is improved.
The enterprise architecture process should create value for all parties involved, which is unfortunately not taken into account by many methods.
An enterprise architecture, if it is to be successful, must always be initiated by top management. At the same time, however, a pure top-down approach is problematic, as support from the entire organization is just as crucial for success. The establishment of an enterprise architecture should therefore rely on a combination of top-down and bottom-up approach. The enterprise architecture is created in a long process (often 6-18 months, depending on the company even longer) and does not lead to higher profit in the short term, but to additional effort. The prerequisite for an enterprise architecture is a team that develops the enterprise architecture full-time. This team must be supported by the cooperation of the other areas. It is unrealistic to create a complete enterprise architecture. This would take years or decades. Therefore, the enterprise architecture should only represent the relevant areas of the company in an appropriate granularity.
With the advent of lightweight and agile processes in IT, enterprise architecture management is sometimes seen as a hindrance, especially when it is operated with a lot of bureaucracy and without regard to what is absolutely necessary. Therefore, the challenge is to carry out pragmatic architectural work.