Languages (spoken, visual, mathematical, etc.) exist because they are the building blocks for communication, understanding, and ultimately, relationships. Relationships form the foundation for social networks, communities, strategic partnerships, and more complex systems. These systems, and the interaction of within and across such systems, is a basis for life and living.
The problem is, the definition and conceptual understanding of these building blocks, foundations, and higher-level systems often does not exist. As a result, technology development efforts, strategic partnerships, marketing campaigns, and the like suffer from a lack of true coordination and comprehension.
In general, identifying building blocks, establishing foundations, and defining more complex systems and interactions is critical to advancement in this world. In most cases, establishing these foundations is a much needed platform for coordination and comprehension that supports achievement of a higher objective. In other cases, attempting to define abstract concepts and inherently complex systems is a fruitful exercise in itself, driving constructive debate, new questions, and lessons learned for the primary stakeholders involved.
With this in mind, I seek to outline some building blocks and establish a simple foundation for enterprise architectures. My hope is that by initiating this exercise, it may provide some conceptual clarity to non-technical folks and demonstrate a framework through which other systems can be defined and explored.
The Building Blocks of Enterprise Architectures
In general, an enterprise represents people, information, and technology joined by common needs, objectives, and/or behaviors. An enterprise architecture helps define the structure of the enterprise to enable the people, information, and technology to interact in an efficient, effective, relevant, and sustainable manner.
- People – Represents individuals or the various organizational constructs that contain individuals, such as a program, agency, domain, or community of interest.
- Information – Represents all consumable data, products, and knowledge that is collected or created by other elements of the enterprise.
- Technology – Represents the infrastructure components, networks, capabilities, systems, and programs that support other elements of the enterprise.
The Foundation for Enterprise Architectures
Now that the puzzle pieces have been broadly defined and we have a simple lexicon to work with, we seek to: (1) outline how these building blocks might fit together to support various operational needs, analytical use cases, and other tasks/functions; and (2) identify the logical connections, interactions, processes, and/or relationships between and amongst the building blocks.
The diagram below begins to define this foundation, logically placing enterprise elements (people, information, technology) to support coordination and comprehension. This would then support the examination of each possible pair of building blocks (e.g. people and information) to define the enterprise architecture and identify critical interdependencies within the system.
Enterprise Architectures: Technology Focus
To this point, establishing definitions and diagrams provides us with a core foundation for understanding end user requirements, identifying security implications, pinpointing system interdependencies, and supporting system analysis efforts. Focusing in on the technological components of our enterprise architecture, we have categorized them into three logical tiers:
- Top Tier (Front-End) – Represents the technologies that support end-user interactions (data access, analysis, visualization, collaboration, input, personalization, etc) with information/data and other stakeholders.
- Middle Tier – Represents the utilities, services, and support components that optimize system interactions amongst all people and information.
- Bottom Tier (Back-End) – Represents the core information architecture, system security, and access / identify management components to support a secure, efficient, and effective operation.
The bottom line is that defining building blocks and outlining foundations is a critical first step to support coordination and comprehension. Sometimes just putting words and diagrams on paper saves valuable design and development hours or at least drives valuable discussion. Particularly in the world of enterprise architectures, this process is critical to align stakeholders up front and to put development efforts in perspective. Whether it’s boxes, lines, definitiosn, or discussions, sometimes a little language goes a long way.