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EA Dying? No! Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!

by Philip Allega  |  August 17, 2010  |  8 Comments

A lot of buzz at the end of last week of the IT vs. Biz camps in the world of EA.  And, it was a buzz-killer.  I, however, am ready to look forward and am not thinking about calling the undertaker. Here’s a blog that consolidates a lot of the heated discussion online:

http://enterprisearchitecture.ulitzer.com/node/1385669

This was all sourced from a quote in a John Zachman posting in which he stated:

This is what is killing Enterprise Architecture… every computer programmer, systems designer, software architect, solutions architect, technology architect, computer operator, PC owner, data architect, database architect, network architect, business analyst, systems analyst, enterprise architect, service architect, object architect, project manager and CIO calls whatever they want to or maybe, whatever they are doing, “Architecture.” It is chaos. No wonder we don’t have Enterprises that are coherent, integrated, flexible, dynamic, interoperable, reusable, aligned, lean and mean and working.

Indeed, last week I made mention that My Mother Has An EA Definition and discussed the challenges of YAEAF (Yet Another EA Framework) and related issues of defining, scoping and focusing an EA program for the particular use cases required. 

The key point that the UDAYAN BANERJEE blog makes is that

There was NO disagreement about the proposition that “Enterprise Architecture IS dying”

The heated debate is only about why it is dying, or what it was supposed to be in the first place, or whether TOGAF represents EA, etc.  Nick Gall went though every single one of the 604 comments on the subject from dozens of interested parties found:

  1.  All agreed on one point, that EA is dying.
  2. There was no agreement on any other points!

It seems to me that, perhaps, EA is not dying.  Conflated uses of the term “architecture” without any qualifying words like “enterprise”?  Certainly.  But, dying?  I’m not so certain that I can quite bring myself to see that.

Before going any further, I should clarify that I’m speaking to the process of engaging in EA and not the titles that various people may purloin to operate as an XYZ-architect.

Gartner recently shared that the entirety of things known collectively as “enterprise arhitecture” is in the trough of disllusionment (paywall link here: http://www.gartner.com/DisplayDocument?ref=clientFriendlyUrl&id=1402513 and graphic for everyone here: http://www.gartner.com/hc/images/201646_0001.gif). But, we’re already seeing it looking up from the trough as recounted in Good News! EA Coming out of Trough of Disillusionment.

Our position, from our research, is simple. Let me recount that for everyone here:

We track the “birth” of EA from the John Zachman seminal IBM Systems Journal article in 1987 entitled, “A Framework for Information Systems Architecture”(officially available to IEEE members and subscribers here:http://ieeexplore.ieee.org/xpl/freeabs_all.jsp?arnumber=5387671). That means that EA is ONLY TWENTY-THREE (23) YEARS OLD

As I recall, I had a lot of fun at the age of 23 working in the IT industry and “burning the candle at both ends” (an English idiom referring to working all day and partying all night). Is the market place of EA both serious and playful?  Perhaps.  But, in the world of hype cycles Gartner has observed that it takes 25-30 years for many things to reach the plateau of productivity, meaning the 25-30% of global organizations are doing something consistently well. 

At the time that the concept of EA was introduced, many organizations were experiencing difficulty managing their IT plants, as technology began to evolve from a back-office support function to a business-critical capability. Starting in the 1990s, enterprises began to introduce EA disciplines into their IT organizations as they tried to come to grips with the increased complexity of IT and the changing nature of the IT organization’s relationship to the business. EA has had a rocky ride. As we point out in “So You Think You’re Doing Enterprise Architecture? (sorry, paywall link), many EA teams are doing things, under the banner of EA, which are really not EA. Common examples of this include:

  • Omitting the business context step
  • Starting with comprehensive documentation of the current state
  • Adopting a framework, then producing every artifact in the framework without analyzing which artifacts will deliver business value and address the strategic needs of the organization.
  • Focusing on solving tactical problems and never having time to devote to the strategic issues

The overall maturity of EA by practitioners is adolescent.  Strong examples of successful practitioners do exist, delivering value to their business with EA; however, many more struggle with the basic steps to delivering a successful EA program.  As market hype concerning alternatives to EA continues (see Business-Driven EA positioning on the hype cycle), we see EA practitioners focusing more upon EA value realization than upon creation of artifacts for their own sake. Market hype will begin to abate as a common understanding of enterprise architecture is attained (see EA Frameworks entry in our research). The winners will be the practitioners themselves and the organizations they serve as EA reaches the plateau of productivity in the next five to 10 years.

As a result of immaturity and misapplications of EA, compounded by the market of “my way to do EA is better than your way to do EA”, we still see EA just coming out of the trough of disillusionment (see https://blogs.gartner.com/philip-allega/2010/08/09/good-news-ea-coming-out-of-trough-of-disillusionment/).

This is not the state of dying, but it may feel like it.  My colleague, Mike Rollings, suggested that perhaps EA is in rehab right nowI’m a “the glass is half full” kind of optimist.  I see EA as evolving, but it may not be clear as to what it’s becoming.  As I have seen it over my past 20 years in EA,  and mentioned in my Hype About the Hype Cycle blog, I see the following progression of EA that our Hype Cycle confirmed and suggest the following progression:

1980-1990s: Architecting for IT
2000s: Architecting for the Business
2010s: Architecting for the Extended Enterprise

The responses concerning groupthink that “EA is Dying”” confirm our view that EA is in the trough.  We,too, see evidence of confusing definitions as the venerable John Zachman sees.  Yet, I am more optimistic about the evidence of EA being applied in new ways perhaps not foreseen but clearly at the enterprise level as I noted in my examples in my recent blogs.

If EA was a person, perhaps it would, like the great Mark Twain has been attributed to having said, note that “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated”.  Or, if EA was that famous knight in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, it might say, “It’s just a flesh wound”

This isn’t the first time that EA has been called out as being in the throes of death.  In 2004, Robert Handler responded to Chris Pickering’s column, “Enterprise Architecture, RIP“, in his blog entitled “Enterprise Architecture is Dead — Long Live Enterprise Architecture“.

I’d suggest that EA is evolving and, like a pupa, does not look too promising at the moment.  If EA is evolving, as I contend, perhaps it’s too early to determine what it will be next.  Practitioners are clearly confused, saddened, and muddled within the Trough of Disillusionment.  Perhaps in 2004, and for many today, the fear is that “it will get worse before it gets better”.  

My colleague, Bruce Robertson, observed:

If practitioners are frustrated, then that’s one thing.  I think there are practitioners who are NOT frustrated at their lack of progress…We do NOT see fewer practitioners of [EA]; we see more.

I gave examples of successful practitioners in my blog, “Is EA really BVR (Business Value Realization“.

As I noted in my blog, Exploring Hype in the World of Enterprise Architecture, in response to @Cybersal (Sally Bean), this “slow burner” of a topic is heating up.  All that energy isn’t the death rattle of EA; I think that this is the pre-amble to sorting out a challenging endeavor.  If applied to what’s coming next for EA, it’s Michael Buffer’s famous words, Let’s Get Ready to Rumble, that are rattling around in my head and not Steven Slater’s Jet Blue capitulation in a famous example of “Take This Job and Shove It“.

Are you giving up on EA or are you ready for success?

Additional Resources

Category: enterprise-architecture  

Philip Allega
Research VP
12 years at Gartner
27 years IT industry

Philip Allega is a research vice president responsible for teaching, coaching and critiquing Gartner's clients to help them realize the value of enterprise architecture as a strategic discipline. Read Full Bio


Thoughts on EA Dying? No! Let’s Get Ready to Rumble!


  1. EA is alive and kicking! I think that the jungle of commercial EA frameworks and methods available are often too difficult to translate into actionable business results. In the Danish government, we have championed the introduction of EA reference models. And we are working on other tools for national IT-portfolio planning, e.g. via business cases. Adoption is difficult, but if we apply EA with a natural skepticism we might succeed… See more @ http://www.EAGov.com

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  3. Tom Graves says:

    EA is not dying, though it probably feels like that to most IT-oriented ‘enterprise’-architects. What’s really happening is that it’s changing form, breaking out of the IT straitjacket – ‘leaving the comfort-zone of IT’, as Gartner and, later, Open Group both noted during 2009.

    Your pupa metaphor is probably the best way to put it: the discipline is currently undergoing a necessary and natural metamorphosis that will literally lift it into a new dimension, the ‘little death’ between caterpillar and butterfly. To anyone who thinks that the caterpillar form _is_ the entity, this change will seem like death; the butterfly might even seem to have no connection with the previous form. Once we understand the whole life-cycle, though, we can see that each is a necessary part of the other: the butterfly is the means through which a caterpillar creates new caterpillars.

  4. Philip Allega says:

    Thanks, Kristian. Yes, the Danish government is working hard at, and demonstrating success and results in the creation and consumption of EA to yield value for the government and its citizens. Of course, it’s not just my personal opinion but one that the OECD has noted. I wish I had that link handy, but I’m certain it’s on http://www.EAGov.com as well.

  5. Philip Allega says:

    Thanks for the comment on the pupa, Tom. I was thinking about chrysalis at the time and it struck me that might be helpful.

    Yes, it struck us that so many agreements concerning EA’s premature death reflected general frustration and reinforced our placement of EA within the trough; but, examples of success are illustrating that the corner is turning – even if it is a slow turn.

    Although EA is applied outside the comfort zone of EA and this, in turn, is helping during this metamorphosis, I am not certain if it will lose all connections to IT. Indeed, there’s still a strong use case for EA in IT and, I presume, it will remain so for the foreseeable next 10 years. Will an EA-without-strong-ties-to-IT have a different name, style, etc.? Would that be right? Or, would it be that, truly, the ENTERPRISE and all its viewpoints for all its stakeholders may come to be represented well? I’m hopeful that it’s the latter and, like Spring Watch on BBC in the UK (see http://www.bbc.co.uk/springwatch/webcams/) I’m sure I, and others, will be on the lookout for those hopeful, tender, shoots that represent the coming change.

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  7. Jim Heaton says:

    Enterprise Architecture is most assuredly not dying in the enterprises where it is adding value. If it’s not adding value, or the time TO value is too long, let the forces of competition kill it off.

    What will emerge from the trough will be the successful EA groups who manage risk through EA. It will be Architects who value deliverables (and eschew inbred terminology like “artifact”) first and only thereafter value processes to deliver them. The successful are those who take RESPONSIBILITY for the architectures of the enterprise, even without full authority. Valuable Architects are those who understand that you cannot execute on the “E” in “EA” by picking and choosing projects and systems, but rather you must apply concepts like scalability to EA itself to enable engaging with them ALL.

  8. Philip Allega says:

    Thanks for sharing your perspective, Jim.



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