What is enterprise architecture?

What is Enterprise Architecture?

When recent research by Bain found that only 10% of organisations were happy with their Enterprise Architecture capabilities (see one of our previous blogs), this implied that lots of people weren’t happy. One cause may be inconsistent understanding as to what Enterprise Architecture is and, as a result, misalignment of expectations. Communication of what constitutes EA and the value it brings is critical to the success of an EA initiative. Here we look at what some respected sites define as EA; all good, but with nuances, and we give our view of these definitions and what we think EA is. Hopefully, it will provide ideas for how you can communicate your EA better.

Different Definitions

TechTarget describes EA as a conceptual blueprint aiming to determine how an organisation can effectively achieve its objectives through analysis of the enterprise, planning, design, and implementation. It says EA assists businesses in undergoing digital transformation by integrating legacy applications and new processes to ensure alignment with cross business digital transformation.

See: https://www.techtarget.com/searchcio/definition/enterprise-architecture

Similarly to TechTarget, CIO.com defines EA as the practice of analysing, designing, planning, and implementing enterprise analysis to successfully execute on business strategies. EA is seen as playing a role in structuring IT projects and policies to achieve positive business outcomes, such as maintaining agility and resilience.

See: https://www.cio.com/article/222421/what-is-enterprise-architecture-a-framework-for-transformation.html

Wikipedia describes EA as a business function dealing with structures and behaviours, particularly business roles and processes that generate and utilize business data. It’s a practice involving analysis, design, planning, and implementation, utilising a holistic approach.

See https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Enterprise_architecture

Interestingly, all of the above appear to lean heavily on the Federation of Enterprise Architecture Professional Organizations (FEAPO) definition of enterprise architecture, which says “Enterprise Architecture is a well-defined practice for conducting enterprise analysis, design, planning, and implementation, using a holistic approach at all times” and then comprehensively details what EA is (see the link below)

See: https://feapo.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/10/Common-Perspectives-on-Enterprise-Architecture-Final-1-copy.pdf

The above are all reasonable descriptions of EA, consistent with one another, but they focus more on process than outcomes (note: the FEAPO document does also cover outcomes). If you are selling an EA approach to a CxO who is deciding where to allocate their budget, then a focus on outcomes is a better way of communicating what EA is, and this provides you with anchors around which to deliver value.

Then we have:
Gartner views EA as a “discipline for proactively and holistically leading enterprise responses to disruptive forces by identifying and analysing the execution of change toward desired business vision and outcomes”. They say EA provides a comprehensive view of the enterprise, facilitating effective decision-making, optimisation of resources, and adaptation to business environment changes.

See https://www.gartner.com/en/information-technology/glossary/enterprise-architecture-ea

PWC (UK) defines EA as “optimising legacy or fragmented processes, information and technology into an integrated environment that facilitates easy decision-making and change implementation”.

See https://www.pwc.co.uk/services/risk/technology/digital-integration/enterprise-architecture.html

If you are justifying EA to your CxO, then these two provide good definitions to build on, as effective decision-making is what every CxO wants.

The Computer Security Resource Center (CSRC) defines EA as “A strategic information asset base, which defines the mission; the information…the technologies necessary to perform the mission; and the transitional processes for implementing new technologies in response to changing mission needs; and includes a baseline architecture; a target architecture; and a sequencing plan”. This covers the elements and purpose, but doesn’t talk about the benefits realised by EA.

See https://csrc.nist.gov/glossary/term/enterprise_architecture

The Open Group’s definition talks about how EA provides an effective path to realise an enterprise’s strategy, using “a holistic approach to translate strategy into a well-defined execution path using appropriate analysis, planning, design, and implementation methods” and “enables the Enterprise to most effectively achieve the mission, business strategy, and goals through cycles of planning, design, deployment, and delivery of change”.

See https://pubs.opengroup.org/togaf-standard/adm-practitioners/adm-practitioners_3.html

This covers a lot of bases and could be used to frame a good description of EA.

How we define Enterprise Architecture

So how do we respond when asked ‘What is Enterprise Architecture?’. Typically, we begin by saying it’s all about your business operating model: ‘knowing where you are, knowing where you are going, and then knowing how you will get there’.

When we expand on this, we say:
‘Enterprise Architecture (EA) helps you understand the fundamental structure of your business: its operating model. This can include information about your people, processes, applications, data, infrastructure, suppliers, customers and business partners, and how these interdepend and interact. EA can be applied not only to the current business operating model, but also to any future operating models that may be required in response to changes in strategic direction. By developing structured roadmaps from the current state to these future states, EA can play a vital role in clarifying and de-risking the strategic planning process.’

The value derived from EA will depend on the requirements of a business at any point in time. This may simply be the need to rationalise the application portfolio as part of a cost reduction or operational efficiency initiative. At the other extreme, it may be the need to assess the detailed operational impacts of a merger or acquisition. In such cases, by aligning strategic initiatives with actionable plans, EA can ensure that the organisation realises the anticipated tangible outcomes, such as reduced costs, enhanced agility, improved customer satisfaction, and optimised operational efficiency. By highlighting the costs and risks, it can give an organisation a reliable, structured pathway to achieving its strategic objectives and sustaining competitive advantage when responding to expected and unexpected events.


So, to summarise, while definitions vary, common themes include the holistic approach of EA to align IT and business strategies, facilitation of digital transformation, and enabling an organisation to effectively navigate towards its strategic goals through systematic planning, analysis, and implementation. Deciding what Enterprise Architecture means for you is about working with your stakeholders, agreeing what your focus should be and using that to communicate to the wider organisation. If your focus is technology, then slant the definition you use internally within the IT function to that, but if it’s business focused then lean that way instead.

Note: the blog where we discuss the Bain report can be found here – Is your enterprise architecture delivering value?

Contact Us