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In an ideal world, your Enterprise Architecture would encompass a grand vision of how systems work together and a roadmap to achieve the vision. The problem is, we don't live in an ideal world and likely never will. 

So how can one define the difference between vision and reality?

 Given all of the challenges corporate IT organizations face, simply “keeping the lights on” can sometimes take over and consume all of the available bandwidth. With this in mind, where should you look to derive value in an architecture strategy? This is a simple question without a simple answer. You can’t just decide to not keep the lights on and focus on innovation. So, how to solve for the fact that businesses are faced with the need to innovate to stay ahead and maintain a competitive advantage?

 The balancing of keeping the lights on and innovation is where Enterprise Architecture is supposed to add direction and most often does. Where most IT organizations seem to focus though is on the lower level stacks. Don’t get me wrong, there’s a need for those levels including integration strategy, master data, and infrastructure management; but what if instead, the attention was centered on the business process? If IT could better align with the business needs and objectives, and everyone came to sit at the same table wouldn’t the end solution be a much more effective design? I’ve seen a few companies do this very well, so I realize I’m not presenting a new idea; just trying to emphasize the thoughts for companies who aren’t yet thinking in this manner.

 In my career, the most effective solutions I’ve seen have taken a layered approach. By bridging the gap between business and IT and accounting for the layers along the way, a much more effective strategy can be realized. While the below diagram is an oversimplified view, it has become the most useful way that I’ve seen to articulate the overall idea.

The largest hurdle in this view is not how to take the business processes and map them through the applications, data, integration and security layers. Instead, it’s taking a broader view of the business processes and defining a clean way to implement the processes without having to re-engineer the lower stacks. And that is the crux of the concept. Traditional Enterprise Architecture would take the overall business vision and map it to an ideal state. While the ideal state would be….ideal, it’s not practical. That is where everything begins to fall apart. Instead, separating the layers into logical components provides a more holistic solution and also begins to enable some modularization.

 By asking some simple questions about each layer, one can begin to create architectures at each point. This results in 5 distinct architecture strategies that combine to form the overall Enterprise Architecture. Essentially, this results in a strong business strategy, aligning to the application landscape. The application landscape will then align downward to where the data and information resides and in turn, incorporate the necessary security components to complete the vision.

While there is a lot more depth needed to build an entire Enterprise Architecture, if we all focused a bit more on the business and learning about how our companies achieve success, then we could all be a bit more aware and hopefully provide some value beyond just basic cost containment and controls as we design for the future.