Enterprise Architecture Analogy

I was talking to a colleague two nights ago and he asked me how I describe Enterprise Architecture. Immediately I have memories rushing back of when I was an EA and had to educate folks on "What is EA". I had two routes I could take in my response. The first was a complex and through explanation. The second a simple answer that relates to something we could relate to. I went with the latter.

I have been using this analogy for about four years now from my activities at the bank I used to work for. It doesn’t completely describe the EA function but it isn’t meant to. It is used to convey the general premise of what an EA function is.

I use the United States form of government as an analogy. As shown below there are three major branches; the Judicial, Legislative, and Executive.

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You can see a ton of similarities here. I break these three forms of government into the following activities of the EA function:

  • Judge It – This area goes into the governance activates of an Architecture Review Board (ARB). Ideally ARB’s should have limited power and only have the ability to review architectures not to create the laws (i.e., standards).
  • Standardize It – When we talk about standardization this is the activity that forms virtual teams of domain stakeholders to build what is commonly referred to as Principles, Policies and Standards.
  • Execute On It – The executive branch in reality is the "commander chief" that is the official spokesman and stimulates action in time of need. Likewise with EA’s on strategic projects and management of future strategies.

Like with all analogies it’s not 100% accurate but it can be a power tool to convey a message. I was talking to Harry Pierson in Microsoft IT about this as analogy. He made some great points in challenging the semantic details. While I agree on those detailed points, I don’t think it applies to this analogy. The point of the analogy is not for communicating with people whom already understand EA but rather others such as developers, business representing or senior IT decision makers.

So what’s the point here for EA’s? Being able to articulate your function and purpose to your audience in terms they understand will greatly help you in your endeavors. This allows your audience to understand what you do and how you can help them. On the flip side, if they do not fully understand your role there is a good possibility that they will not engage. This isn’t because they want to, but because they do not know that they should.

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