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Common sense enterprise architecture

On one level, enterprise architecture is about asking the right questions. It is a way of formalizing best practices for software development.

A view might hold that enterprise architecture (EA) frameworks have taken up where methodologies of the 90s left off. Before the unifying effect of UML, a thousand schools of methodology flowered. You got a new job and you got a new methodology to learn. But, really, the number of frameworks is not on the order of methodologies of yore. Although, like methodologies, they are open to interpretation, with zealots and naysayers in the crowd. Maybe there is unification in that The Zachman Framework and The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF), together with UML, have come to comprise common practices that most software architects can reference in one way or another.

The EA framework is a way of doing software in a business. The EA framework could be a three-ring binder, a drawing on a white board, a document in a searchable repository or a tool embedded in another tool. TOGAF can be pretty extensive, but there is a hip-pocket -size version too! The best enterprise architects bring much of their life's experience to their use of an EA framework. Clearly, we all have to create our own structured approach to organizing our efforts – software or other. spoke with The Open Group's Chris Harding and others last week, and the topic was applying best practices to the cloud. The group has released Cloud Computing for Business for that effect, but with a twist. The book is as much for the line of business manager as it is for the enterprise architect. That may be good. After all, the frameworks tell us that the IT side and the business should collaborate – maybe reading the same books would be helpful. The book offers tools such as a decision-tree questionnaire that helps determine an application's or an organization's cloud readiness.

Asking the key questions is just sensible. But humans need reminding. One of the best effects a framework can have is to keep you in the steady thrall of common sense. But imagination is important too. A poor architect would be one that used a framework to stifle innovation.

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