Enterprise Architecture – what is it good for?

Enterprise Architecture Process

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I was at a meeting with a potential customer once, where we discussed moving forward with a social portal project. Their process – despite having some great people (!!) – compels them to spend months and years discussing how things would be done, if there were to be done, assuming they should be done. Or something like that; what they were unable to do is actually move forward. For 18 months. At the same time, we can read about Groupon‘s enterprise architecture here.

We spoke with Ryan Miller and Chris Bland from Groupon about how the company has managed to scale its business so quickly and with such agility. Rather than relying on its own complex internal systems infrastructure, Groupon uses tools like Salesforce.com and Amazon EC2 and S3 to keep the site powered and deals flowing.

A company barely existed 18 months ago! And then I went back to this letter to Enterprise Architecture I saw yesterday:

Actually, we’re still burned from the last time you did that to us, when you told us that “multichannel integration” would give us all the competitive advantage that we needed. It didn’t give us anything very much, but we suppose you got some “cool” bits or architecture. Anyway, once bitten, twice shy.

But even more surprising than all this was the discovery that even if we agreed to everything you want, we will then have to face an Architectural Council who have the power to overturn everything and send us back to the drawing board. Considering the constitution of this “council” is anyone who has a view on anything, we’ve heard on the grapevine pretty much no decisions get made ever. Apparently you all argue for hours over definitions of things such as TOGAFs and whether your “strategic” statements are correct or not. Its all so very ivory tower. Herds of elephants must have been destroyed in the process.

There is a lot in the post that I do not like, but it is hard to argue with the feeling most enterprise architecture teams inspire in their business users and IT colleagues. This reflection prompted a thought,

what if that is the true meaning of Enterprise Architecture – something that lets the company scale as fast as possible with minimal costs. Period. Everything else is a red herring.

One organization had a series of meetings, and another went from start-up to a multi-billion dollar company with thousands of employees in hundreds of locations – all in a same interval it took Earth do 1.5 orbits around its star.


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