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Enterprise Architecture: An Overview

© Copyright, 1996, Yogesh Malhotra, Ph.D., @BRINT Institute, All Rights Reserved
E-Mail: malhotra@brint.com

Reference citation for this document is given below:
Malhotra, Yogesh. (1996). Enterprise Architecture: An Overview [WWW document], @BRINT Research Institute, www.brint.com. URL http://www.brint.com/papers/enterarch.htm

This working paper may be printed as a paper copy for non-profit, non-commercial, academic or educational use provided no alterations are made and the copyright notice is maintained intact.
Any other use requires a written preapproval from malhotra@brint.com

[To Business Process Reengineering & Innovation Resource]
This article discusses Enterprise Architectures as they relate to the broad decisions that must be made by an organization as it creates its organizational information support system. The concept of Enterprise Architecture has been defined and discussed variously in extant articles in practitioner and research publications. This article attempts to take a holistic view of diverse interpretations while aligning with Digital's overall approach as outlined by Darnton and Giacoletto (1992).

The following discussion is framed within the concept of Strategic Capabilities Architecture as proposed by King (1995) and Rockart and Hoffman (1993). In our view, this architecture should be the guiding architecture for the design and development of information systems (IS) in a ‘complex’ organization that is embarking on the design of its Enterprise Architecture. This assumption obviates the concerns that existing investments in computer systems cause to the managers, as they plan to migrate or evolve to newer IS developments.

Strategic Capabilities Architecture

King (1995) suggests that the guiding architecture of a firms should be based on the strategic vision. In other words, this vision bridges the extant status of the firm (“Where it is?") and its projected future status (“Where it wants to be?”). The primary issue is related to the firm’s current and future capabilities. The guiding dictum is that: a single capability of the firm cannot provide a sustainable competitive advantage to the firm. The firm cannot compete on the basis of ‘low cost’ or ‘best quality’ or ‘customer service.’ The sustainable competitive advantage of the firm derives from the “synergy" of the firm’s various capabilities. Porter (cited in Pastore 1995) has proposed a similar concept in his notion of “complementarities." He argues that the various competitive capabilities of the firm should be “complementary” or “synergistic" so that the synergy resulting from them can not be easily imitated by current or potential competitors (Harrison 1996, Pastore 1995). It is worth considering that the same argument has been made with reference to different IS-related innovations, such as the more recent BPR (Davenport & Short 1990, Davenport 1993, Davenport & Stoddard 1994) and a decade old Strategic Information Systems (Kettinger et al. 1993). Of late, the issue of Enterprise Architecture has also received attention in the Global Information Systems (Jarvenpaa & Ives 1993).

Surveys of IS executives (Neiderman et al.1991, Brancheau et al. 1995) provide some evidence of the growing importance of Enterprise Architecture over the last few years. In one of the most recent studies (Brancheau et al. 1995), Enterprise Architecture was ranked near the top of the list of issues considered important by the chief information officers. Apparently, this suggests the significance of the overarching framework within which the various levels of IS development are considered: including Business Architecture, Information Architecture, Data Architecture, Systems Architecture and Computer Architecture. The various decisions related to development of IS- related innovations need to be considered in a systemic manner within the framework of various architectures. Further, the investments in new IS-related efforts such as BPR, Client-Server Computing, Distributed Databases need to be considered within this systemic framework. The decisions related to strategy, business goals, information needs, data mapping, selection of product- independent systems, and selection of specific hardware and software need to be guided by this framework to ensure maximal effectiveness and efficiency. Referring to the recent Delphi study of IS executives (Brancheau et al. 1995), these ‘related’ issues: Information Architecture, Systems Architecture, Data Architecture, Client Server Computing and Distributed Databases, have been somewhere in [or near] the 'top ten' list. The authors made tenuous observation of the interrelatedness of some of these issues, however they did not explicitly provide a systemic overview that explicitly considers the interrelationships between these issues. The following discussion attempts to provide some perspective of the various levels of the architectures and key factors that are relevant to each level.

Business Architecture

The Business Architecture devolves from the Strategic Capabilities Architecture. The firm defines its Business Strategy based upon its strategic vision of the current and future capabilities defined by the Strategic Capabilities Architecture. At this level, the capabilities may be viewed more in terms of the core competencies (Prahalad & Hamel 1990). Essentially the Business Architecture takes into consideration the businesses strategy of the firm, its long term goals and objectives, the technological environment, and the external environment. This level also takes into consideration the interests of the various stakeholders of the firm, such as the government, regulatory agencies, customers, employees, stockholders, etc. (King 1978).

Information Architecture

This level is primarily a map of the overall information needs of the firm based upon the firm’s Business Strategy. The Business Strategy of the firm is translated into Information Systems Strategy through the process of Information Systems Planning (King 1978, 1988). The process of translating the Business Strategy into IS Strategy, i.e., IS Planning can be assessed by using an IS Planning Profile (King 1988). This profile facilitates the coordination of the various aspects related to IS Planning, such as the Plan Quality, the Stakeholders requirements, Plan Outcome, etc. The IS Strategy, considered in terms of its objectives and constraints, guides the development of Information Architecture.

The Information Architecture basically encompasses the application level aspects (e.g. Competitive Intelligence System, Market Research System) that map the information needs on the firm’s specific business needs. The development of the various applications devolves from the mapping of the business needs on specific IS-related [potential] applications. This process is also constrained by the various limitations present at the Business Strategy level. For instance, the viability of the proposal for specific applications could be limited by the availability of the budget requirements.

Essentially, this level is like a ‘blueprint of a building’ that takes into consideration the Data Architecture, Systems Architecture and Computer Architecture.

Data Architecture

The Data Management Strategy follows from the Information Strategy and the Business Strategy. The firm would need to make decisions about how data will serve its Business and Information Needs. It needs to define its current and future needs for accumulation, usage, renewal, maintenance, and transfer of data within, and outside, the firm’s boundaries. From a business perspective, it would need to consider issues such as:

From the information perspective, it would need to consider issues such as:

Essentially, this level aligns the various data related aspects (listed above) with the business applications (Information Architecture level), the systems related protocols (Systems Architecture), and the various hardware and software applications (Computer Architecture level).

Systems Architecture

This level of architecture relates primarily to the Information Architecture, the Data Architecture, and the Computer Architecture. Although some authors consider Communication Architecture to be a distinct level, however within our scheme this level needs to be treated as a part of the other three levels. Decisions about specific systems that the firm is going to deploy need to consider the demands made by the business applications, the data requirements, and the hardware and software that will support them. Examples include issues such as the Client Server Architecture, Intranets, and the various Networking Protocols.

Computer Architecture

The Computer Architecture, as discussed above, relates to the Information Architecture, the Data Architecture and the Systems Architecture. This level is primarily made up of the specific hardware and software that constitutes the technological base for the above architectures. The choice of specific hardware and software requirements is also determined by the products available in the market and the budget allocations. Specific 'make or buy' decisions are generally made at this level, however they are guided by the issues at other levels. For instance the decision to outsource the firm’s Telecommunication setup or Data Center centers, although a technology decision, is guided by issues such as development of proprietary knowhow, and focus on the core competencies.

The above discussion has provided a simplistic view of the various architectures that form the basis for the firm’s Information Systems Development Initiative. However, it must be observed that several elements discussed under various levels have cross-level implications. For instance, the decision related to Client-Server is not just a technological decision, it has implications for the firm’s productivity, human resources, and competitive advantage (King 1994). Similarly, decision about Intranets entails financial, technological, and business aspects.

Contemporary thinking of the executives includes the notion of Knowledge Architecture (Hildebrand 1995) which takes an ‘organizational knowledge’ view that serves as the foundation for the Enterprise Architecture. However this topic deserves attention in its own regard and is considered beyond the scope of the present discussion.

A going firm, however, needs to observe a caveat: these decisions are more complex when the firm has to make future decisions when adding on to these architectures. However, if a firm considers the interrelatedness of the various architectures in the early stages of IS Planning, such decision-making should prove to be a more organized and manageable activity.


Brancheau, J.C., Janz, B.D. & Wetherbe, J.C. (1995). " Key Issues in Information Systems Management: A Shift Toward Technology Infrastructure," Manuscript under review by MIS Quarterly.

Hildebrand, C. (July 1995). "Information Mapping: Guiding Principles," CIO, 8(18), pp. 60-64.

Darnton, G. and Giacoletto, S. (1992). Information in the Enterprise: It's More than Technology, Digital Equipment Corporation: Bedford, MA.

Davenport, T.H. (1993). Process Innovation: Reengineering Work through Information Technology, Harvard Business School Press: Boston, MA.

Davenport, T.H. & Short, J.E. (1990 Summer). "The New Industrial Engineering: Information Technology and Business Process Redesign," Sloan Management Review, pp. 11-27.

Davenport, T.H. & Stoddard, D.B. (1994 July). "Reengineering: Business Change of Mythic Proportions?," MIS Quarterly 18(2); pp. 121-127.

Kettinger, W.J., Grover, V., Guha, S., & Segars, A.H. (1994 March). Strategic Information Systems Revisited. MIS Quarterly, pp. 31-55.

Harrison, B. (1996), "The Importance of Being Complementary," Technology Review, 99, 7, (October), 65.

Jarvenpaa, S.L. & Ives, B. (1993). "Organizing for Global Competition: The Fit of Information Technology," Decision Sciences, 24(3), pp. 547-580.

King, W.R. (1995, Winter). "Creating a Strategic Capabilities Architecture," Information Systems Management, 12(1), pp. 67-69.

King, W.R. (1994, Summer). "Creating a Client/Server Strategy," Information Systems Management, 11(3), pp. 71-74.

King, W.R. (1988). How Effective is Your Information Systems Planning. Long Range Planning, 21(5), 103-112.

King, W.R. (1978, March). Strategic Planning for Management Information Systems. MIS Quarterly, 27-37.

Neiderman, F., Brancheau, J.C. & Wetherbe, J.C. (1991). "Information Systems Management Issues for the 1990s," MIS Quarterly, December 1991, pp. 475-502.

Pastore, R. (1995), "Competing Interests: An Interview with Michael E. Porter," CIO, 9, 1, (October 1), 63-68.

Prahalad, C.K. and G. Hamel (1990), "The Core Competence of the Corporation," Harvard Business Review, (May-June), 79- 91.

Rockart, J.F. & Hofman, J.D. "Systems Delivery: Evolving New Strategies," Sloan Management Review, Summer 1992, pp. 21- 31.

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