Friday, March 13, 2009

The Enterprise in EA

One of the areas of contention in EA in anything but the smallest organisation, is how to define the enterprise, i.e. the ‘E’ in ‘EA’. This may seem obvious - if you are in the business of manufacturing and selling widgets, then the enterprise is the business of manufacturing and selling widgets. However in these days of outsourcing, off-shoring and reconfiguration of value chains things are not so straightforward. Consider the following examples.

The first is Tesco. As a large and successful retailer its enterprise consists of taking products from suppliers and selling them to consumers via multiple channels (various store formats, online and catalogue). It provides back office functions in support of these activities. So what is the enterprise here? Are suppliers part of the enterprise? Are the different haulage companies used by Tesco part of the enterprise? Is the internal email system part of the enterprise?

As a second example consider a public sector organisation such as an NHS trust. It delivers care to patients, funded by the department of health. If it is a larger trust it may also undertake teaching and/or research. So does the enterprise in this case include the research systems? The teaching systems?

Finally, my own pet favourite example: a systems integration programme. Consider a prime contractor for the NHS National Programme for IT. A prime delivers the programme against the customer’s specification to the customer’s stakeholders. So in this case we have a confluence of the NHS enterprise, an individual trust’s enterprise and the prime contractor’s enterprise.

I think the first thing that becomes clear from these examples is the link between the enterprise and governance. As such I could choose the enterprise to be anything I want, but it is meaningless if I have no ability to measure and influence conformance against my target architecture. This potentially means that the enterprise can be broader than a legal entity. For example Tesco could include elements of EA in the contracts that they agree with suppliers e.g. use of standardised interfaces for communications, common business processes etc. Conversely it also explains the common situation of organisations creating EA teams but not providing any governance mechanism, which leads to a team that produces lots of good ideas which are then largely ignored by the rest of the organisation.

My second observation is more contentious: if the enterprise picture is highly complicated with multiple powerful stakeholders who have divergent interests, there is no point trying to have anything other than a trivial enterprise architecture, because parochial stakeholder interests will always defeat a federated, consensus-based governance model. In short, if it is a complex stakeholder environment, see what emerges rather than trying to impose a centralised EA.