Enterprise Architecture beyond technology

This blog post is a draft of something I’ve been working on. It’s not my typical “running, beer, and geeky things” type of post. However, it might give you a bit of insight as to what I do as a career right now, and how I think about things that I do at work. The picture associated with this post is of the new MN United FC stadium in the process of being built. It seemed appropriate for a post about architecture and strategy.

In the world of Enterprise Architecture (EA) there are many frameworks and paradigms that people look at to follow. Some of the most common ones break EA in to four component domains. These four domains are often referred to as:

  • Business Architecture
  • Data Architecture
  • Technology Architecture
  • Application Architecture

At first glance, one thing becomes apparent; namely that these domains seem to be focused on the world of Information Technology. In fact, Enterprise Architecture is often found under the IT department of many companies, reporting to the CIO. This leads to the misconception that EA is only applicable when talking about business objectives as they relate to Information Technology. I would posit that this could not be further from the truth.

At the core of Enterprise Architecture are three concepts; Vision, Strategy, and Knowledge. These three ideas encapsulate where you want to go (Vision), how you get there (Strategy), and what you have at your disposal to make it possible (Knowledge). These concepts are not exclusive to technology problems. Every business or organization wrestles with how to grow into the future.

The four domains of EA are simply a way to organize how we talk about problems that we’re trying to solve, and the strategy of new things that we’re trying to accomplish. Because of the growth of technology in all facets of almost every business, EA has been called upon to be the tool to manage how technology functions and grows. When we look at technology problems it’s easy to see how these traditional domains relate.

  • Business architecture – This is how a business chooses which IT projects to embark upon, and how they match up to business goals. It’s a way to look at business capabilities and then map those capabilities to technology that achieves results.
  • Data Architecture – Data management is a huge deal for many organizations. The skills of trained database administrators and data analysts are crucial to maintaining functioning databases and architecture of data that is used in technology solutions.
  • Technology Architecture – When a business needs to deploy a technology solution it needs to have the right hardware and networks available to it to accomplish this. Often this means effective management of how technology and infrastructure is deployed. As well as deciding when, and when not, to try new things.
  • Application Architecture – Finally, we get to the heart of many IT organizations, the application development and support teams. This domain seeks to effectively develop and deploy applications that carry out the business objectives of the organization.

Although this breakdown works well when talking about an Information Technology organization, I believe it can be taken further. This isn’t a new idea, as others have suggested this as well, but I would like to present a simple description of how I feel that these four domains can translate to any organizational situation, even outside of technology. To do that, I want to change the names a bit, but we’re going to start even further back. There are four key concepts that are required to run an effective organization.

  • Why you do what you do
  • What you know
  • What you have
  • How you accomplish work

Why you do what you do – Similar to traditional Business Architecture, this is about how you translate your business capabilities into effective goals and visions. A business/organization is pointless without a solid vision of what it’s about. You have to understand why you’re doing what you’re doing before you can begin to implement any type of solution. For some businesses this “why” might revolve around a shared vision of change in the world around them. For others, it may involve the skills and talents of specific individuals, and how they can use those skills to further the group’s goals. Whatever the driving force, the “why” will influence what you are capable of, and how you want to shape your mission.

What you know – Just like traditional data architecture, consideration needs to be given to your knowledge base. The information that is gathered in the collective of the organization forms the basis from which decisions and outcomes are driven. The intellectual property of an organization is often the gold mine of what makes that group unique. Almost every business, non-profit, or government entity, in existence has some level of proprietary knowledge. It knows something that others do not, and that knowledge is what sets itself apart from other organizations.

What you have – For many organizations, these are the assets and capital that have been invested in. Every business has “things” that they own. It might be their office equipment that help them do their job, or it might be their factory machines which produce their product. It could be a unique space or location where they do their business, or it could be a simple kitchen filled with pots and pans where amazing food is prepared. The assets of a business or organization are key to how they get their work done. However, these assets need to be managed effectively, and uniquely, depending on what they are. You manage a truck much differently than a computer server.

How you work – These are the business processes that are used to deliver the services or products of the organization. In the Information Technology world, this could be specialized applications that do unique functions for the consumer. In a bookstore, this would be how you manage your retail storefront with appropriate staffing and stocking of product. Development of these processes is key to effectively running a business. Without strong and effective processes, a business or organization cannot function to the best of its ability, and will not succeed. Managing these processes well is an art form and looks different in every situation.

If we start to look at Enterprise Architecture through this more holistic lens, we can see something that has more to say to an organization at large, and not just the Information Technology department. EA can provide a structure through which an entire organization can be viewed. By utilizing a structure such as has been laid out here, an organization can develop systems to manage each domain in the way that works best for each.

For a technology company that might mean traditional SDLC and data management practices. In the case of a manufacturing company it could include specific maintenance schedules and hardware refresh standards of critical equipment. Or, for a brewery it could mean management of the specialized knowledge of recipe creation and the catalog of recipes that the brewery has created. Therefore, I would propose a slightly different set of domains that encompass a bit broader view of what Enterprise Architecture can be.

  • Business Architecture
  • Knowledge Architecture
  • Asset Architecture
  • Process Architecture

When we’re open to looking at EA as something that goes beyond technology, then the frameworks can apply across a broad spectrum of industries and businesses. We don’t need to be limited to thinking of EA as just the domain of the CIO. We can bring it to the entire business, and apply solid principles of planning and management across everything that occurs. Enterprise Architects have a wonderful set of skills that can go beyond technology.

Architects are experts in helping develop processes for reviewing changes, or cataloging knowledge. They can look at the big picture view and help an organization manage their goals, both practically and strategically. Including solid Enterprise Architecture in an organization strengthens the organization as a whole, and can help drive progress to the future. It’s time to move beyond just EA for IT, and bring Architecture to the world at large.

Now that we’ve defined a different way to look at Enterprise Architecture we can start to talk about the different processes that can help guide an organization in each of these domains. That will be the topic of future entries.


Government as a business – perks

I’ve been in the public sector for almost 17 years. One of the more unique aspects of public servant life is the notion of a different standard of ethics that in other domains. Specifically, there are rules around the dollar amount of gifts that you can receive from vendors (something like $25). I can certainly see the benefit of this, as when I was in the private sector the amount of money that would get spent by vendors trying to woo our business were sometimes insane. As public servants we’re not there to make a lot of personal gains.

However, one aspect of this is that it is often very difficult for governmental organizations to do reward staff appropriately. This is often displayed with the notion of purchasing food for public servants. Many times in the IT world, staff are asked to work late hours, and sometimes during major outages this could require very long shifts. However, there are many complicated rules in place about purchasing food for consumption by staff using public money. As a manager, I pretty much have to pay for any perks, like pizza for a hard working team, out of my own pocket.

This also shows in how hard it is to put on large professional development gatherings. The organization I work for manages one large gathering a year for management staff, with all the regular perks, but it is an exception to the rule. The animus about paying for public servant perks with taxpayer money becomes so contentious that many organizations simply avoid dealing with it, and do nothing at all.

This has two detrimental effects. First, it limits how we can reward staff for doing a really good job during a crisis situation. Second, it makes it hard to retain talent that can be woo’d by the abundant perks in the private sector. For the couple of years I was a private sector employee I loved having a corporate American Express card, and staying in nice hotels on business trips. But as a government employee, we’re told to make do with as little as possible.

The public demands that our government services are 100% reliable and available at all times, and when something doesn’t work right (especially in the technology sector) we catch a lot of hell. Yet, we’re hamstrung in how we develop and retain staff by citizen worry that their money might buy a hardworking server engineer a $10 pizza.

Government is not a business

(WARNING: Political post!)

I’ve spent the better part of the last 20 years working as a public servant. I’ve worked at a handful of government agencies for most of my career, and I feel like I’ve lived and breathed it for long enough to consider myself an expert insider. I’ve also spent a few years in the private sector, including a stint at a massive multi-national corporation. As we inaugurate a new president who campaigned under the premise that he could run the country better because he was a businessman, I felt that I needed to speak up on why I see this as a bad thing.

First, I freely admit that there are many processes that are similar between government and business. As someone who runs a very large IT infrastructure, I rely on good business practices to guide how day to day work gets done. I want to ensure that everything that I do is efficient and well managed, because when all is said and done, that makes everyone’s lives easier. Yet, sharing a desire for solid processes and practices does not mean that government and business are the same. The reason is that at the core, businesses exist for consumers, and government exists for citizens.

A consumer is driven by the motivation of value. A consumer is concerned with purchasing the best product or service for the lowest cost, balancing these two concepts to their advantage. There may certainly be some social altruism involved (i.e. fair trade coffee), but consumers will still measure this altruism by the amount of money they can justify spending on a product or service.

On the other hand, a citizen is motivated by the concept of community preservation. It doesn’t matter where someone falls on the spectrum of libertarian to socialist, the motivation still revolves around the community that surrounds the individual. Community motivation means that decisions are based upon what is best for the people involved in, and surrounding, that community.

Let me share a practical example. In my job I work for a governmental organization that manages all of the wastewater treatment in the metropolitan area. Wastewater is something that affects every single person whenever we flush our toilets. As a society we have decided that letting human waste simply flow into the streets is bad for our communities. It’s also bad for our health, food supply, and numerous other issues. Therefore, we’ve decided that we should develop sewers to bring our wastewater away from our communities and treat it before putting the water back into the ecological system.

It’s not cheap to do this work, and there are massive pieces of infrastructure involved in releasing only clean, drinkable water back into the river. A consumerist view of this endeavor would involve paying for our sewer system to funnel all of our wastewater away from our homes. We would all consider this a good value, as it gets rid of our shit (literally) for the cost of putting pipes in the ground. However, from a consumer value perspective, continuing to treat this water to make it clean enough to drink doesn’t make sense. It’s much cheaper to simply flush everything down the river, since the river will carry that wastewater to a different community. The cost is simply too high to be a good value for an individual.

However, a citizen perspective is focused on the betterment of the community. Not only is it important for a community to funnel it’s waste away from where people live, but it is equally important to not pollute the source of drinking water for other communities apart from our own. There is little consumer value in doing this, as once the waste is funneled away from our homes, we’ve achieved the purpose of flushing our toilet. Yet as citizen, we choose not to stop there, and we look at how we can ensure a better world for those that would be affected by our waste.

Many government programs don’t make sense from a business perspective. They benefit small groups of people and are paid for by people who could be spending their money in other ways. However, government is built upon the principle of being by the people, for the people, for the betterment of our society. The opening to the Constitution states:

We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

At no point in that opening does the concept of consumer value enter into the equation. The purpose of government is to provide for a society that is robust and whole. The purpose of a business is to attain wealth, while providing products and services at a good value to consumers.

As our country enters a new era of politics, let’s stop and remember what the purpose of government is. Big or small, a government is there to provide for a “more perfect Union” of our communities. We can argue about what areas of society should be our focus, or how laws should be carried out, but we can never argue about the need to look beyond the best value for our money to find the best solution to the community’s problem.

I pray that our new government doesn’t try to make itself look too much like a business, and remembers where it’s efforts should be focused. I worry when I read about proposed large scale cuts to programs like the National Endowment for the Arts, and how that loss will affect the quality of our communities, in order to save a few bucks. Government isn’t a business, and it should always stay that way.