Enterprise Architecture in Interesting Times

Business and technology continue to shape enterprise architecture.

By Bob Rhubart

January/February 2011

"May you live in interesting times,” says the old curse. Enterprise architects who have plied their trade over the last 10 years know too well just how interesting the first decade of the twenty-first century has been. Enterprise architects are in the business of adaptation, and the rapid evolution of information technology and the level to which that technology has permeated the human experience have kept enterprise architects very busy trying to hit a moving target that shows no signs of standing still. What factors had the greatest impact on enterprise architecture in the last decade? I put that question to a number of people who spent the decade in the architecture trenches.

“I clearly see the evolution of Web services and subsequently SOA as having the biggest impact on enterprise architecture,” says Oracle ACE Director Ron Batra, director of product development at AT&T. “Web services and SOA have enabled a high level of interoperability, accelerating time to market and reducing complexity and software development costs.”

Oracle ACE Director Lonneke Dikmans, an enterprise architect at Approach Alliance, offers a different angle on SOA’s impact on enterprise architecture.

“The whole world is now your competitor,” Dikmans says. “This means you must be more cost effective and flexible. This has led to SOA as a concept. But to achieve a SOA, you need some form of enterprise architecture or planning across the enterprise. That realization started with large international companies but has been picked up by smaller organizations as well.”

That trend—the growing recognition of the value of enterprise architecture—has had a significant impact. “Enterprise architecture has emerged in the last 10 years as a real, respected, and matured area of interest and expertise,” says Oracle ACE Director Ronald van Luttikhuizen. “People take it more seriously.”

But according to Mans Bhuller, senior director with Oracle’s Enterprise Solutions Group, that would not have happened without the emergence and maturity of architecture standards and specifications. “Without these standards, there would be no agreed-upon methods to specify, document, and communicate architectural patterns among the enterprise architecture community,” Bhuller says. “Now we have common tools and taxonomy to talk among ourselves and to our customers.”

Talk itself—in the form of social computing—was another factor that helped to shape enterprise architecture. “The rise of social networking and the focus on collaboration have been very important,” says Oracle ACE Director Mike van Alst, an independent architect. “They will play an important role in the next decade as well.”

Other factors will continue to shape enterprise architecture over the next 10 years.

“We’ll see more of the big shift already underway,” says Oracle ACE Director Floyd Teter. “Moving away from federated hardware joined by ad hoc network designs and moving to centralized datacenters—both local and cloud configurations—that leverage virtualization to meet the varied needs of a multitude of users.”

Batra also sees a major role for cloud computing. “Besides shrinking geographical boundaries,” he says, “cloud computing will usher in an entirely new level of sophistication for procuring, managing, deploying, and administering software and hardware subsystems.”

Bhuller sees new tools in the future for enterprise architects. “The emergence of lightweight introspective and design tools will help the enterprise architect reverse-engineer current state architectures and formulate future state architectures.”

Dikmans predicts a technology-driven cultural shift, what she calls the “emancipation of consumers.”

“People will become coproducers rather than just being consumers of products and services,” says Dikmans. “A company’s strategy will no longer be determined just by the management but also by its customers and employees.”

One thing is certain: the enterprise architecture target isn’t about to stop moving. It’s going to be another interesting decade.

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