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Is Your Enterprise Architecture Healthy?

Take the Test

Working directly on SOA projects as an independent I'm exposed to many more organizations than when I was building technology. As such, I see some common patterns or issues emerging.

The largest and most disturbing is the fact that there seems to be a huge chasm yawning between the traditional enterprise architecture crowd and those looking at the value of SOA. Enterprise architecture, as a notion, has morphed from an approach for the betterment of corporate IT to a management practice, at least for some. So the person who needs to understand and implement the value of SOA is sometimes not the current enterprise architect in charge.

The core issue is an add/not change approach to architecture. While adding applications, directories, and databases to an existing architecture is easy and risk-adverse, changing architectures around systemic notions such as SOA is hard and comes with risk. Thus, many are choosing to ignore it. In many instances it's the culture, with some organizations promoting a "you fail and you're fired" approach versus a "let's try new things and seek improvement."

Another issue is that it's easier to stay high level than do actual work. Drawing diagrams, doing presentations, and writing reports is much easier than actually going out and making real changes with real benefits. Again, from above, that carries with it the notion of risk. Implementing SOA takes a lot of upfront work, as well as many changes. However, in many cases, the benefits outweigh the risks by a large margin.

Basically, if you answered no to any of the above, it may be time to look for some new ideas. In many modern Global 2000 companies, the enterprise architectures are badly broken and hinder the business's ability to change. For instance, a recent survey by the Business Performance Management Institute found that only 11% of executives say they can keep up with business demands to change technology-enabled processes. Forty percent of which, according to the survey, are currently in need of IT attention. Worse, 36% report that their company's IT departments are having either "significant difficulties" (27%) or "can't keep up at all" (9%).

In reality IT has done a poor job of supporting the business considering the amount of latency apparent when change needs to occur. CEOs pull their hair out when their IT group talks about years not months to add product lines, change markets, or merge with other companies. In many companies, the IT shop is the single most limiting factor for business success and can kill the business if left to continue as-is.

As I said, for some reason the discipline of enterprise architecture has morphed into more of a management practice, and the fundamental flaws in many enterprise architectures aren't being addressed. SOA is one approach, but in some instances SOA is not indicated; thus why I asked for an ROI study as part of the "test." However, there's always a need for good enterprise architecture.

I'm sure many enterprise architects will indeed pass, and do have most of what was mentioned on the "test" understood. Or, at least have plans in place to get there ASAP. This goes to a holistic desire to align your IT with your business. Most are out of alignment right now.

Here are a few questions to ask yourself to determine the state of your architectural standing:

  1. Has someone compared the current architecture with best practices in your industry to spot issues that need correction, such as the architecture's inability to align and keep up with the business?
  2. Has someone done an ROI analysis of the value of SOA, or other approaches for that matter, for the current architecture and reported it to management?
  3. Do you have a complete service-, semantic-, and process-level understanding of your enterprise?
  4. Do you have a common abstract model for key elements, such as customers, sales, inventory, transactions, etc.?
  5. Are systems well integrated and do they communicate in real-time when needed?
  6. Can you change your architecture to accommodate business changes at the speed required by management and the marketplace?

More Stories By David Linthicum

Dave Linthicum is Sr. VP at Cloud Technology Partners, and an internationally known cloud computing and SOA expert. He is a sought-after consultant, speaker, and blogger. In his career, Dave has formed or enhanced many of the ideas behind modern distributed computing including EAI, B2B Application Integration, and SOA, approaches and technologies in wide use today. In addition, he is the Editor-in-Chief of SYS-CON's Virtualization Journal.

For the last 10 years, he has focused on the technology and strategies around cloud computing, including working with several cloud computing startups. His industry experience includes tenure as CTO and CEO of several successful software and cloud computing companies, and upper-level management positions in Fortune 500 companies. In addition, he was an associate professor of computer science for eight years, and continues to lecture at major technical colleges and universities, including University of Virginia and Arizona State University. He keynotes at many leading technology conferences, and has several well-read columns and blogs. Linthicum has authored 10 books, including the ground-breaking "Enterprise Application Integration" and "B2B Application Integration." You can reach him at [email protected] Or follow him on Twitter. Or view his profile on LinkedIn.

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