by Alan Rencher
I am often asked which Enterprise Architecture framework I like and which one I recommend. This is usually a very quick discussion where I try and explain that there are great reasons to use a few different ones but I have my own biases and opinions. I try and encourage the serious answer seeker to decide for him or herself and will recite a platitude about there being a few good ones and you should study them and decide for yourself. In the end the person typically just says something like: “Just tell me which one I should use.” This kind of bothers me, but if I am nailed down I usually answer: TOGAF. I want to put some color in the conversation and in this entry I will try and describe the top five frameworks, my take on their strengths and weaknesses and why I like the ones I like.
A very brief discussion on the practice of Enterprise Architecture may be in order. In the late 1980’s a guy working for IBM named John Zachman coined the term “Enterprise Architecture”, he did this in a seminal paper entitled “A framework for information system architecture“. In this paper he outlined potential steps and practices for making good architecture decisions with regard to many different and varying factors. Since then many other smart people have implemented similar frameworks and processes.
In alphabetical order, here are the top 5 that I have experience with and think are sound. I will attempt to provide some strengths and weaknesses for each as well as some brief experiences I have had with them.
DODAF – This is the Department of Defense’s [DOD] framework created initially in the 1990’s as a “more secure” version of some loose standards that different branches of the armed forces had at that time. This framework is rather large and complex. It is suited for extremely large systems that have very challenging integration needs and extreme performance and security needs. This framework is too big for one person, or even a team to become expert on. I was required to use nomenclature and diagrams using it’s standards when I was helping run a defense contracting technology company that was building and integrating supply chain systems for the USAF and later the DOD as a whole. It was actually very different than Zachman and was very challenging to understand. One of the strengths of the DODAF framework was it’s focus on what it calls “Operation Views” and modeling and representing them from different perspectives. I would not recommend this framework to anyone or any organization unless you are working for a DOD related entity or a defense contractor.
GARTNER – Gartner offers an Enterprise Architecture process and practice with some elements of a framework. For our discussion today we will refer to their offering loosely as a practice. This practice focuses on what Gartner refers to as “business outcomes”. The Gartner practice is heavily weighted toward defining a “future state” and everything working toward that outcome. In principle, I like this but their practice seems rather lean in giving you tools and emphasis on the “how” you get from your present state to your future state. I had a lively discussion with Betsy Burton and Brian Burke at a Gartner symposium last year on this topic. The Gartner practice is very business friendly and is seeing some real momentum in the industry right now but is still not widely adopted. I am not entirely sure why but suspect that in the coming 18 months this practice will start to really get wider adoption. We’ll see. I really have not used their practice exclusively so my experience with it is all speculative and academic.
TEAF – This was the “Treasury Enterprise Architecture Framework”. This is a dead framework that I used when building systems for a major financial services company earlier in my career. It was a derivative of the Zachman framework that specialized in tighter security controls and was initially sponsored by the US Department of Treasury. I used this back when it was a brand new standard and in all candor was terrified of it. It was heavy and scary. It had a rigid list of vocabulary that differed slightly from Zachman and really focused on a series of matrix views that enabled “intrinsic perspective”. Apparently this framework has been consumed by something even scarier, the dreaded “Federal enterprise architecture” or FEA framework. All jokes aside, I am not super familiar with FEA other than the hallway conversations at EA conferences. Some former colleagues in the federal contracting industry have described it as exceptionally heavy and almost as overwhelming as DODAF. Time will tell. Perhaps this framework is responsible for the Obamacare health exchange disaster? Just kidding….
TOGAF – This is “The Open Group Architecture Framework“. This framework is created and maintained by the OpenGroup. This open standards based group is comprised primarily of industry thought leaders and seasoned EA professionals. This group is influenced at least somewhat by their corporate sponsors. These sponsors are very numerous but the big mega-vendors comprise the “platinum” sponsors. My own opinion is that these sponsorships are very healthy and represent an extremely wide diversity of corporate interests. TOGAF splits all architecture activities into four domains or categories: Business Architecture, Data Architecture, Solution / Application Architectureand Technical Architecture. These categories are worked on in various phases that happen inside of what TOGAF describes as an Architecture Development Method. This is a series of steps and or activities which help the architect arrive at a usable architecture to help the business reach it’s goals. Some purists and others dislike TOGAF because you have to pay to become a member of the OpenGroup and you need to buy the materials and pay for the certification tests. I have purchased the materials and I have taken the certification tests. I am not a TOGAF purist but I like the tools in the TOGAF toolbox and I use them when they make sense. I have delivered value with the TOGAF toolbox. I personally get a little overwhelmed even thinking about strictly following the TOGAF ADM to the letter. It is my own personal preference. I do have a mild criticism of TOGAF myself in that it does not provide a super-heavy security emphasis. This can be overcome by discipline and your own focus, or just including security requirements as part of your initial business architecture.
Zachman – This is the Stradivarius of Enterprise Architecture frameworks. I have used it extensively early in my career and cut my architecture teeth with it designing home automation and engineering process software. It uses a very extensive matrix of steps of design. I liked it because it was easy for me to understand. It used simple descriptions like: who, what when, why, where and how to describe different layers of maturity in your overall design. John Zachman was a visionary man. He was a game-changer. His framework is still somewhat popular and many organizations still use it. Nearly all EA frameworks trace their origins to Zachman. The challenge with Zachman is that it has not adapted to the levels of complexity in the industry even though it has gone through several revisions. That is my opinion. I have had long discussions with many who I respect who would disagree. In my mind the simplicity of the more recent additions have made the Zachman framework kind of like a nice classic car that is fun to get out and drive once in awhile for fun but not something you want to drive to work on the freeway every day.
All of these frameworks add value or have added value. There a few others that I have not mentioned that some practitioners will undoubtedly call for the leaders spot. At the end of the day, in my present practice, I draw on all of my varied technology and leadership experiences that have their roots in all of the frameworks I have been exposed to. I draw most heavily from TOGAF and at this point in my career use TOGAF by far the most. I guess I am a TOGAF guy for the most part. I would love to hear which frameworks have added the most value for others. In closing, I feel that there is actually a pretty big hole in the EA space. I believe that there is ample opportunity to provide a much more simple framework that would probably borrow heavily from a few of these more well-known frameworks to create a simple, programmatized framework. I wish I had a lot of free-time to go do it myself. Who knows…….