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Blueprint for Harmony

Blueprint for Harmony

Enterprise architecture (EA) has long been the Cinderella of the IT Kingdom: so old-fashioned and exotic she was left in the kitchen coughing clouds of soot during the Y2K ball, the glittering dotcom masquerade and even during e-business’s first grand festivities

But when the dances ended and the business aristocrats began to emerge - stony broke and wincing at their naivety in having fallen for Vendor's seductive promises - EA was waiting, grubby but glowing with inner beauty, shyly offering herself as a promise of a new and better Kingdom to come. Her overtures have prompted many IT Knights of the Realm to take a renewed interest in this neglected child.

Now that the party season is over more CIOs are ready to listen to enterprise architecture's long-standing claims that the realisation of an effective information strategy requires the definition of a consistent architectural framework within which individual projects are conceived, justified, built and deployed. Partly that is because a volatile e-business environment finds organisations having drastically altered business models thrust upon them in the name of endurance. It is also because growing numbers of organisations are discovering how brittle are those environments where Internet-based front ends talk to back-end databases or CRM solutions, and are recognising architecture as a way of resolving those issues.

The problems facing organisations trying to convert themselves into e-businesses are helping CIOs to realise the value of a good architecture. They know that unless they plan for redundancy, scalability, application integration and rapid application modification up front they will be forced to do so later at vastly increased cost. As a result, CIOs are re-embracing the corporate standardised platforms and applications that compose enterprise architecture as a way to contain costs and ensure business alignment in the Internet age.

"These days, if you've got Web services you've got dotcom, you've got .Net and J2EEE. You need to have some sort of overall architecture blueprint to say where everything fits, the sort of areas you are going to focus on, and the sort of technologies you think appropriate for your business and your environment," says Carlo Bonato, manager planning strategies, Victorian Department of Human Services.

Bonato says the department had a very good architecture for the 1990s - built around its initial work in the early part of the decade in systems development - which had become established, then mature, then outdated. Now it is working to match the changed circumstances of the organisation to a refined EA. "We want to identify with the business the best way of achieving some of the results, so we will move forward on that basis: that there is a clear approach and a clear message we're giving both to the business units and to the rest of the organisation. The message is that this is the agreed way that we're going to develop systems; the agreed way we think they should be integrated; and we believe that will save us cost and effort and resources in the long term."

Whether enterprise architecture deserved its former bad rap, or whether the concept of a flexible architecture had to wait for the technology to catch up to it, companies struggling to regain control but retain enough vision to accommodate the "next big thing" are now looking to architecture to help. "For a few years there, enterprise architecture went quiet and where we saw an enterprise architecture being done was around large system development projects where there were multiple systems being developed at the same time," says Todd Heather, principal consulting director, DMR Consulting Asia Pacific. "Prior to that, enterprise architecture was really more often seen as an offshoot of IT strategy planning, so in the early 1990s we did a lot of IT strategy plans, and architecture was part of that.

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