Is Enteprise Architecture a solution or cover-up?

For some time now, I have been pondering the question, “Does enterprise architecture introduce anything new which hasn’t already been proposed by modern business management practices?” Some readers might be asking themselves, “What is the relationship between modern business management and enterprise architecture? Where is he going with this?” To begin, I personally make a clear distinction between enterprise architecture and enterprise IT architecture. For me, the former is about “architecting” the whole enterprise in order to achieve performance, coherency and sustainability. The latter is about “architecting” only the IT portion of the enterprise [mostly] under the constraints of the non IT portions. My question is about enterprise architecture and not enterprise IT architecture.

So what is “modern business management?” The short answer is “the opposite of classic management!”. Classic management is based on a tacit assumption that organizations can be compared to machines. Consequently, divide-and-conquer strategies are promoted both in organizational design as well as task responsibility/accountability distribution. This is to be expected because most “classic” management principles date from the industrial revolution. The consequence of all of this is that “classic” management doesn’t take a holistic (global) approach to management. Modern business management practices are grounded in the belief that the various dimensions of an organisation cannot be addressed independently for management purposes; the most should be addressed as a whole unit, hence the use of the term holistic. Many business management authors such as Senge, Demings, Drucker and Ackoff have been promoting this way of thinking for several decades now. In addition, leadership, as stated by Peter Drucker, classic management is about doing things right, it isn’t about doing the right things. Modern business management is about leadership.

Sadly, from my experience, most organisations seem to manage according to the practices of "classic business management." Consequently, I feel that enterprise architecture is a bad solution to a deeper problem: "classic business management” and its beliefs.

Now, for a short moment, please let me go off into fantasy land. In my fantasy, if an organisation was managed according to the belief of modern business management practices, there probably won’t be a need for an enterprise architecture team. The enterprise architecture team would be replaced by a strategic leadership/management committee composed of representatives from across all the units of the enterprise (including IT). These representatives would work in collaboration in order to insure holistic management and optimisation. In essence, enterprise architecture would be an organisational function by the committee and not a role fulfilled by an enterprise architecture team. Enterprise architecture would be just plain old good “business management”.

Now back to reality… because of classic management, these units often do not work in collaboration because, driven by a culture of silos, they fight for limited resources in order to do what they believe is “locally” right instead of working together in order to do what is “globally right”. This is also sustained by a tacit assumption that accountability cannot be given to a group but only to individuals.

Enterprise architecture, under the form of enterprise IT architecture, in many organisations, is often in IT. Why is this? Well, because IT is always “stuck” in the middle of all the other units fighting for limited resources. Consequently, for IT to function efficiently, it has to compensate for the silo culture… hence the need for an enterprise architecture team. Often, business management doesn’t understand enterprise architecture because understanding it would put into question current ways on managing/thinking.

In conclusion, if the hypothesis that enterprise architecture is a cover-up for a deeper problem is correct, this would help explains why surveys by Forrester report that enterprise architecture is not delivering the value it should and that most enterprise architecture teams are not adequately supported.


James Lapalme PhD is an Enterprise Architecture consultant and researcher. He has obtained a PhD, a MSc and a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Montreal as well as a MA in Human Systems Intervention from the University of Concordia. He has contributed, as an enterprise architect, to work which has been the subject of case studies by Gartner and MIT-Sloan. He has also published a number of book chapters and journal articles on systems engineering related topics. He may be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.


Comments (2)
  • Rubina  - Making implicit organizational knowledge explicit

    EA introduces a new view on organizational knowledge because it can facilitate the process of making implicit organizational knowledge explicit. This is the new dimension that EA can bring into modern business management, in the same way as management information systems availability in the 1970’s made management more factual.

    Because EA has that organizational knowledge representation dimension it can be used to expose ‘mechanistic’ factors of management. I agree with you that EA will be a bad solution for a deeper problem in mechanical business management and its beliefs.

    Having in mind that EA is just a tool, some companies are capable of taking advantage of EA, giving them a competitive edge, while others are not. In this way, EA can be used as a tool in benchmarking capabilities of competing companies.

    When it comes to collaboration EA can be used to harmonize communication amongst business units but can also be used to minimize collaboration between those units hence allowing them to focus solely on what’s important. So my response to your question ‘Do some companies use EA to cover up poor management practises?’, yes, some companies use it for this, while for others it is a solution, enabling them to save time and resources, streamline operations, accelerate innovation, and gain a competitive edge.

    Regarding Forrester’s report, it is not that EA is not delivering – it is just a tool. I would say that the organization cannot deliver effective EA.

  • amit.arora

    Nice article. Enjoyed reading it .

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