Using Enterprise-Wide Architectures

Another major lever of IT efficiency is the use of standardized enterprise-wide architectures for a broad range of components related to an organization’s IT investments. The standardization of an organization’s approach to various aspects of technology typically enables significant re-use of existing capability and a material reduction in resource requirements. Regardless of industry or organization type, the fundamental components of IT systems and the components used to support them are, for the most part, identical.

For example, most of a system’s core functionality is the same as any other, such as the need to store data or documents, the need to capture information via forms presented to the user in an interface, the need to search the system, create reports from the data captured, route messages based on the status of various data or documents, and so on. At their core, most systems require some kind of database, an application engine to process information, and an interface that enables user interaction with the system. To the extent that an organization can maintain consistency and standardization within these components as illustrated below, required investment on a system-by-system basis is reduced.

Enterprise architecture at its core is about maximizing reuse by leveraging a standard approach for building and managing systems and data.

Enterprise architecture at its core is about maximizing reuse by leveraging a standard approach for building and managing systems and data.

The concepts of enterprise architectures also apply to the infrastructure an organization uses including its processing and storage components. Increased diversity of components, from vendors to configuration types typically translates into increased IT spending. Conversely, a single or reduced vendor and make/model environment using standard configurations typically results in a broad range of resource and asset efficiencies.

Another critical component of a standard architecture approach to IT is the way an organization integrates systems or components of systems together from a data exchange perspective. Mature IT organizations embrace the delivery of information from a system as simply a ‘service’ that another system can access with the right electronic credentials. This approach, referred to as a ‘service oriented architecture’ relies on a number of technical and information organization concepts which themselves are focused on enabling an organization to further simplify and standardize its approach to deliver IT capabilities.

The concepts of enterprise architecture are essentially applicable to almost every aspect of an organization’s IT investment and operational activities. For example, an organization can develop an enterprise-wide architecture for output management, governing its approach to printing, copying, and scanning on an organization-wide basis. Based on the development of a target architecture, the organization may move towards a significant reduction in personal printers in the environment, strategic placement of network printers, reduction in printer makes and models, and the use of network technologies that enable printers to automatically notify a help desk they need repair or supplies. The result of the establishment and implementation of an output management architecture is typically lower investment in printer assets and consumables as well as increased uptime.

It’s important to note that leveraging common architectures is not the same as leveraging the same application for different purposes. A system can share common computing and storage infrastructure, and/or a common database and application platform but exist as separate systems meeting very different purposes. In most situations, application and database platform standardization represents the best approach for reducing implementation risk as well as achieving desired efficiencies in development and operation. With a set of platform standards associated with content and data management, workflow, reporting, and user interfaces for example, an organization can readily leverage common infrastructure, resource skills, and authoritative information sources. Additionally, the organization maintains the ability to customize and configure these components while minimizing many of the common pitfalls associated with pure custom development, such as lengthy delivery schedules, poorly written code, limited or no external data interfaces, and shallow technical documentation.

Frequently, the best path for an organization to reduce spending on systems development is to embrace platforms upon which they can create and customize function and problem-specific capabilities. As organizations continue to move towards shared and cloud-based solutions and environments, they should look closely at the concept of Platform as a Service (PaaS) providers as more strategic architecture components to rely on over time.

Implementation of Enterprise Architectures

Organizations seeking to embrace enterprise architectures should consider using an evolutionary approach centered on the development of target architectures and incremental implementation of technical capability as new systems are created and infrastructure investments are made. Most organizations follow a similar pattern to achieve architectural efficiencies including:

  • Developing target infrastructure, application, and other architectures.

  • Seeking to tactically reduce the diversity of product makes, models, and versions that address similar requirements.

  • Implementing unified vendor, model, and configuration approaches to server, environment instance, and other hardware.

  • Implementing tiered storage architectures relying on a number of information storage approaches to meet performance requirements.

  • Implementing one or fewer common database platforms for shared system use.

  • Implementing strategic systems and application platforms associated with information processing, workflow, reporting, search, and interface presentation.