What is Enterprise Architecture?

Hywel Davies

Enterprise Architecture

If there’s one thing the IT world is renowned for, it’s jargon. Technical corporate-speak so impenetrable, that it could short-circuit an enigma machine.

Take ‘enterprise architecture’. One of those phrases where the words make sense on their own, but morph into Swahili the moment you combine them.

So let’s take them one at a time. Enterprise just means ‘business’ and architecture is another word for ‘design’. In the world of IT, this is all about designing how all your technology fits together, across your whole business, in one handy map. So, enterprise architecture is just a posh way of saying ‘map’.

And that’s one of the things we do here at Mosaic Island. We love making maps of technology. We love learning about how different businesses work, and giving people a bird’s eye view of how all their technology and processes need to fit together to make their organisation run as efficiently and profitably as possible, so they can delight their customers and grow their business. In short, we just love it when a plan comes together!

Who does enterprise architecture?

The practitioners - Enterprise Architects - are a curious hybrid of technical competence and commercial business acumen. Their job is to give all your technology, systems and processes the best chance of running properly, to meet the needs of your business – not the needs of your IT department. They want to know ‘what does your business need to do?’ and ‘what might your business need to do in the future?’. Only then, do they talk to you about IT. They are the chief cartographers of your technology, and they show up with their business hat firmly on.

So why does enterprise architecture matter?

Enterprise architecture (EA) is one of those things where the better it works, the more invisible it is. So, because it’s all about the structure and flow of a business, you tend to get the symptoms of struggling architecture in other business areas when it’s actually the EA that’s failing. For example, nobody ever says ‘this enterprise architecture is so badly put together!’ - well, except for an Enterprise Architect of course!

You’re more likely to hear things like ‘why don’t these systems talk to each other?’ (your Ops Director); ‘Why is it so hard to report on customer insight?’ (your Marketing Director) or; ‘Why do I have to explain my problem from scratch each time I talk to someone new?’ (your customers).

Sound familiar? Let’s look at each problem to understand more.


Examples of some common business issues, and how EA can help

‘Why don’t these systems talk to each other?’

Chances are, they were set up at different times, trying to solve their own individual problems. And the team that commissioned the first system probably had no idea some other team might need this second system for the other stuff they were doing. So when the time came for the two to interact, guess what? They couldn’t do it, because the business was expecting its technology to do something it was never designed to do. The individual teams didn’t have access to the bigger picture. So you end up with manual workarounds or technical ‘bodges’ that are sticking plaster solutions.

Well-devised EA looks at everything the business needs to do, anticipating where things may need to interact or evolve – and planning flexibility into the technology structure, so it’s less painful to get two systems talking further down the line. 

‘Why is it so hard to report on customer insight?’

Digital data has increased at a rate that few have been able to keep up with. For many organisations this information can’t be effectively captured or used on yesteryear’s technology. Since the technology can’t cope, there’s no proper process in place anyway – making insight projects painfully ad-hoc or even abandoned part-way through. This puts the brakes on the the CMO’s insight strategy and stops the business from making informed, profitable decisions based on evidence.

A proper EA approach factors in what an organisation needs to know about its customers; what form this information takes and how it can be captured and analysed effectively. The EA will have conversations with all the main business stakeholders to understand where their roles fit into the wider objectives. 

‘Why do I have to explain my problem from scratch each time I talk to someone new?’

Your business is segmented into departments that take care of a specific group of internal activities – and they’ve each got their own systems, data access and processes. But if your internal systems are too separate, it’s only a matter of time before it negatively impacts on your customers.

Imagine walking into a store to ask about changing your mobile phone contract, only to be told you must ring the call centre, because they are the only ones with access to that system. And then when you call, you get passed across several departments, each operator asking you to explain your query from the start. 

Good EA takes the customer journey into account when planning out systems. And this includes how customer data is stored, accessed and moved around a business. In fact, understanding how your customers interact and transact with you is discussed before anyone starts getting technical. That way, the focus is on how the whole customer experience should work, not how individual tools need to operate.

Enterprise architecture can make a real impact on your business

You can begin to see the impact that EA can have across a whole business, internally and externally. And how it can often be the root cause of seemingly unrelated issues. Get it right and it can transform how a business operates. Get it wrong – or worse still, fail to invest in it at all – and you’ll struggle to tackle the root cause of troublesome problems.

Want to know more?

We know loads about enterprise architecture and we’ve been fixing business problems like these for years. Why not take a look at our case studies to see how we’ve helped others.