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A reasonable canonical definition of Enterprise Architecture

A reasonable canonical definition of Enterprise Architecture

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Clearly we want one.  A thread on LinkedIn a couple of months ago attempted to define the value of EA, and produced a tirade of over 1,300 entries!  But while individuals were busy chatting, the Enterprise Architecture Research Forum took a different approach.  This body is a collaborative including the Open Group South Africa, the Meraka Institute, Real IRM, Telkom, Unisa and the University of Pretoria (link). 

This group started with a “definition of definitions.”  In other words, they thought about the requirements of a definition before producing the solution.  (What a novel idea :-). The requirements that they used come from a paper by Dr. Sam Vaknin.  Dr. Vaknin’s definition of definitions indicates that a definition should explain the meaning, use and function, essential characteristics, and the differentia of the concept. (link)

Using this model, the EARF created the following definition:

Enterprise Architecture is the continuous practice of describing the essential elements of a sociotechnical organization, their relationships to each other and to the environment, in order to understand complexity and manage change.


Let’s compare that definition to the “compromise” definition that emerged out of the “160 character challenge” on LinkedIn.  The LinkedIn thread that I’m referring to started as a post, by Kevin Smith (author of the Pragmatic EA Framework, or PEAF).  Kevin asked participants to define the “value” of Enterprise Architecture in a message short enough to send in an SMS text message.  While the length constraint was arbitrary, it was useful for insuring short responses.  Kevin then collected the data and, in a fairly rigorous process, analyzed it to produce a more succinct definition (link). 

Using the responses as a guide, Kevin found that three different aspects of Enterprise Architecture were appearing over and over in the various definitions so his construct includes all three.  He refers to these aspects as the “why, how, and what” perspectives.   Kevin’s combined definition follows:

The purpose of Enterprise Architecture is to enable an enterprise to realise its Vision through the execution of it’s Mission, whilst enabling it to respond to change and increasing its effectiveness, profitability, customer satisfaction, competitive edge, growth, stability, value, durability, efficiency and quality while reducing costs and risks by Strategic Planning, Architecture and Governance supported by a Decision Support framework in the context of aligning all parts of the enterprise using Models, Guidance, Processes and Tools.

Now, to be completely fair, I participated in Kevin’s “160 character challenge” on LinkedIn.  I do not have a single definition of Enterprise Architecture… I have three.  Just as a dictionary may show you many definitions for a word, I have found that the term Enterprise Architecture is used in three different ways: As the name of a business function, a reference to a team of people, and as a reference to a model that describes an enterprise. 

When creating my submission, I was not being particularly rigorous, so I see flaws in my definition as I type this blog entry. (to whit: EA is not limited to businesses).  That said, I will cite my original words rather than revise history.  Note: In order to fit into Kevin’s challenge, I submitted each of my definitions independently.  Recombined as a single definition, my contribution was as follows:

Enterprise Architecture -

-- Noun


1. A business function that collects and manages business information for the purpose of improving the way that a business responds to current or future challenges and opportunities.


2. A rigorous model of the motivations, structures, information, processes, and systems of an enterprise created for the purpose of decision support.


-- Adjective (used with object)


3. A team of influencers and thought leaders within an enterprise chartered with understanding, optimizing, and improving the way the business operates.


Is there a right answer?  Which of these is a better definition?  Which misses the point?  Could we improve one of these entries and recognize it as canonical?  Is there a better definition of Enterprise Architecture, and if there is, what would it be? 

What is your opinion?

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