It seems to me that we have somewhere missed the boat in the field of business administration and information science with regard to the application of enterprise architecture as a strategic management instrument for organizations. And let me try to explain why.
When you open up an art book about building architecture, you see nice pictures of the architecture of structures such as modern buildings, monumental houses, churches, towers, and bridges. Often these pictures are big artist impressions with detailed drawings of the composition of style elements, with a compelling explanation of how they interact or work as a whole (as a principle) and needed for a beneficial result, for example, in a bridge, such as a cable-stayed bridge (as a concept). These kinds of bridges enable vehicles to maintain their speed on the bridge because of a flat road surface.
The discipline of the building architecture has existed for centuries and has brought some magnificent and extraordinary building structures. Principles and concepts are inseparable from the architecture of buildings in order to be able to design and build the “extra” that architecture brings into a structure. If we can reuse this usage of principles and concepts, we may be able to also bring that extra via enterprise architecture into our companies and organizations.
First let’s see how concepts work and how concept principles (the enforced way concepts work) are visualized in building architecture. We do this by examining one of our great architects of all time: Le Corbusier.
In figure 1, you see a principle details sketch showing how the concept of “Sun Breaker” works. Its principle is to prevent overheating of a room during a summer’s day and to catch more sun at once during a winter day by means of using a shade screen. The principle details sketch shows this in a simple way, and you will understand it without even being a building architect.
Creating a design without using concepts and principles and visualizing the principle as a means to make use of knowledge on sunset and sunrise and translating that to effective time bound shading would make it difficult to build a structure and get the same effect done with the same quality and performance.
So we see this as an example where it more than only helps to visualize the concept and its principle in order to bring that “extra” of architecture into a structure. Engineers with the principle details drawing of a sun breaker can construct the desired solution much easier than without. A principle drawing must contain the necessary elements and their composition so you see how it works. If you leave out one of these elements or do not stick to the composition, the principle, or better said the concept, won’t work. In the case of the sun breaker, the elements are shade screens with a certain length positioned horizontally parallel at a certain angle and distance from each other.
Let’s take a look at another example—a carburetor—to explain in detail the working of the principle describing the enforced way of working or working mechanism of a concept.
The carburetor’s primary function is mixing fuel with air. The structure of the carburetor concept is: The carburetor comprises a constriction in the inlet channel, and a narrow tube that connects to the location where the construction is the widest.
The concept principle of the carburetor is: By always pushing air through the narrowing of the inlet channel of a pipe, it ensures that the air flows faster. If we make a hole at the narrowest spot in the pipe, the fast-flowing air will suck even more air. This creates under pressure. If we put that pipe in petrol, then the petrol is being sucked into the carburetor by the air stream. This is how a gasoline engine uses a carburetor.
Does the concept of the carburetor work if we do not have an inlet channel with a narrowing?
The answer is no. If either inlet channel, air, pressure etc. are lacking, the carburetor does not work or does not work as efficiently as it should.
So, again, in figure 2 this second principle detail drawing helps engineers to construct a solution containing the principle much better than without or with only a textual description of the rules of the carburetor.
Here I like to make a parallel between building architecture and the discipline of enterprise architecture in organizations.
Enterprise architects (business, information, solution, data architects, etc.) also create designs and build structures like building architects. Only their structures are IT systems, business processes, function domains, and success/product formulas. What enterprise architects often don’t do is visualize architecture principles or concept principles like building architects do. Often enterprise architects do not even write down a principle in the form of a way of working, but as a guiding normative statement. Which, in fact, makes it hard to visualize the principle as way of working.
One advantage of visualizing principles of concepts as enforced way of working is that we can see much more quickly if an important element (a logical functional part) of the concept is missing, causing the concept not to work optimally or at all (not produce the required results). Or sometimes elements are present that sabotage the principle because they allow other paths to be taken or scenarios or states to be possible.
As enterprise architects, we should always work with the following three starting points to visualize principles of concepts effectively:
- A company’s enterprise architecture equals a total concept consisting of a large number of business, information, and technology concepts.
- The enforced way a concept works and produces results is the concept’s principle.
- In every concept its principle can be formulated and visualized so engineers are able to construct or build a better solution containing the principle of the concept.
Let us, for example, take a look at an organization that uses multiple data sources to answer customer questions. If the data source process changes independent from the various sources, different answers will be given to the customers for the same questions. This is an unwanted situation that can cause costly problems for the customers and lead to customer dissatisfaction. And that is something management and employees do not want. Employees really want to give the customers the same answers to the same customer questions thereby increasing customer satisfaction.
Now a concept that is widely known in the field of enterprise architecture is called “single source of truth.” And this concept has a way of working (i.e., principle) that really helps in the given example situation. The company above really could use a correct and complete implementation of the concept of single source of truth in the organization. If we would draw a principle details drawing of the concept and project that onto the organization, immediately it is visible what is missing or should change in order to increase the quality of the answers given to the customers by the employees.
In figure 3, the concept of single source of truth for FAQs is visualized with all its essential parts. The principle of the concept is formulated in a way of working style.
The principle is: By always giving an answer from the same one and only source for certain questions, a business ensures that its customers get the best available or correct answer to their questions, which results in better service and higher customer satisfaction.
So in the current state of the organization, we see that more than one and only source for certain (the same) questions is available and allowed to be used. In the future state, we see that there is one and only source for certain (the same) questions available. The other sources have been shut down and not allowed any more to create. In practice, this has often led to everyone being required to only use the website FAQ pages.
In the event of a change in the FAQ on the website, everyone using the FAQ to answer clients will immediately see and use the changed answer. Also a process must be scheduled in the organization that regularly shuts down new FAQ-sources in a very early stage. And educating and training employees why this way of working is necessary should not be forgotten.
If enterprise architects visualize concepts and formulate principles in this way—with principle details drawings— managers, employees, and system engineers in the organization will understand more clearly why they should and how they can implement the design effectively.