The Enterprise Architecture Challenge: Integration

For thousands of years, we Homo Sapiens have tackled architectural and engineering challenges with remarkable success: the Pyramids, the Great Wall of China, the Roman Aqueducts, the Taj Mahal, the Duomo of Florence, the automobile, the Panama canal, the airplane, the skyscraper, the hydroelectric dam and the Mars Explorers.

So why can't we meet the challenge of the integrated enterprise?

I believe that history is on our side. We will solve this problem. But we need some serious course correction.

First mistake: We think it's a technical problem. We think it is solvable by Web services, XML, enterprise resource planning or some other technology that changes every six months. Fat chance.

Second mistake: We haven't truly tackled the problem. Over the years, we've defined the enterprise integration problem scope as order fulfillment then supply chain management, more recently customer relationship management and product lifecycle management. But really those are parts of the problem.

If you want to integrate the enterprise, then the scope of your problem is the whole enterprise. Arguably that's a big, complex problem. But so is building a skyscraper, a planned community and the Panama canal. Your enterprise is everything from human resource management to marketing, manufacturing, distribution and finance and everything in between. That's the scope of the enterprise integration problem.

Third mistake: We haven't had a well-developed methodology for solving this problem. Enterprise architecture provides this methodology. Enterprise architecture provides a framework of principles, policies, models and standards.

The models break the enterprise down into distinct, manageable parts, one of the basics of problem solving. I'm not talking about the Holy Grail of reusable software components. I'm talking about the big picture. What are the business processes and data of the enterprise? And how do they fit together to create an integrated whole?

This is a thoughtful exercise, one best done by senior management with broad knowledge of the enterprise. Our enterprise "parts" are not arbitrary. If we do a good job, we will make it crystal clear what our enterprise "parts" are, where the integration points are, which ones should be common or standardized across our enterprise and which ones can be unique for each business unit.

For example, you may want common financial and HR business processes, but different manufacturing processes for each business unit. There is some brain-busting work that has to done in deciding what is in and out of each business process and how common you want that part of your enterprise to be. And it is critical to get the breakpoints between the parts right.

During World War II, Henry Ford was asked to use his automobile manufacturing genius to produce warplanes. The first thing he did was to informally sketch the whole airplane (the enterprise) on a piece of paper and then pencil in how he would break it down into parts. But he relied on his expertise in automobile manufacturing to partition the aircraft, resulting in serious manufacturing and integration issues. Once you get the parts right -- and not before -- it enables can to turn your people loose in a distributed fashion to integrate your enterprise.

The principles, policies and standards of the enterprise architecture framework provide for some rigor and rules in how the individual parts are designed and built so that they will fit together in the end. All you third-party software developers out there, you'll need to help us out by coming up with some standard definitions of your modules (parts) so you can become interchangeable. (Yes, we know this isn't in your best interest). Don't forget that the principles, policies and standards have to be developed not only for technology but also for data and business processes.

So let's get on with the engineering feat of the millennium.

First, let's tackle the real integration problem: the enterprise. Second, let's stop hoping that technology is going to solve the enterprise integration problem. Third, let's use enterprise architecture to thoughtfully break the enterprise down into distinct, manageable parts and provide some principles, policies, models and standards so that we can turn people loose within an architected framework to integrate the enterprise.

We Homo Sapiens know that we're capable of engineering marvels; we just need to set our sights on this one.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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