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Enterprise architecture is a model-driven, practice-centric discipline. But, sometimes, EA initiatives seem to take forever to produce results. However, if businesses take a minimalist route using a lightweight enterprise architecture, EA projects can transform from long-term commitments into responsive application evolution methods.
Lightweight enterprise architecture represents an easier-to-adopt philosophy of more rapidly translating business needs into applications. A tool-based, lightweight EA model bridges the gap between the enterprise architect and software architect so they can operate in the other's arena -- they might even be on the same team.
There are two major approaches to developing lightweight enterprise architectures. The first way retains a traditional, model-driven approach, but aims to be much more responsive to changes in the business. The second approach is workflow-driven and focuses mainly on business processes. LeanIX is one example where the tool accelerates an EA model, while ServiceNow offers an approach that focuses on business processes. Other tools, such as Ardoq, straddle the line with elements of classic EA and a business process lens.
Lightweight EA toolkits that enforce a model
There are many formal EA models, such as ITIL, The Open Group Architecture Framework and the Zachman Framework. Many businesses follow one of these models, or a variant of them, and they shouldn't abandon it.
Look for tools that promote use of best practices within a particular EA model and encourage connections between enterprise architecture and business needs. They offer preset business relationships, practice flows and reports that jump-start EA processes. These tools almost always include strong support for collaboration, too, which enables a strong EA-to-business relationship. Business units can create elements that are processed through IT applications.
An approach built upon popular EA models should focus on the data that's at the heart of an enterprise architect's mission. Business units create and use data elements, which are processed or produced by IT applications. Business data is the link between the EA model the organization adheres to, the IT applications within it and the operations that support it.
The more you can capture current data in use at a business, the more quickly you can start improving the enterprise architecture, especially for projects that update existing applications -- as most CI/CD pipelines do. A lightweight EA toolkit can import information from current sources, but the features and scope of this import capability vary from product to product.
Wiki model or custom collaboration?
The collaboration capabilities of lightweight EA tools can influence the product selection. Some tools use a wiki model, while others enable cooperative work through customized product features. Custom collaboration designs dictate how team members work together, although they can fit better with specific product features than the generalized wiki approach. Wikis are easier to extend, even beyond the scope of the lightweight EA toolkit, which matters if you change tools later.
Tools that celebrate the business processes
Workflow-based tools, on the other hand, almost discard traditional EA thought, in favor of viewing business and application processes as a series of workflows -- ideal for those less familiar with traditional EA.
In this lightweight EA approach, architects link together applications via vendor-packaged or customized workflows to complete business processes. Workflows are easily visualized by both the business groups and IT, and they can align both groups' practices with relatively little effort. These workflows can focus on business practices, IT applications or both.
Analytics provide the glue that links the workflow model of lightweight enterprise architecture to IT. In most cases, workflow tools either centralize data and analytics in a single repository or integrate existing data through orchestrated import processes. Analytics and reporting can view the data held by the workflow to get a snapshot of business activity.
Organizations that already rely on a formal EA model should gravitate toward tools that make that model easier to work within, focusing on how business data moves and changes. But to move in a different direction from established EA models, adopt the workflow-centric approach that pushes business needs into the software that supports it. This approach fits well with CI/CD and facilitates a responsive enterprise architecture.