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Enterprise Architecture Principles – Do they matter?

We define and adhere to certain set of Principles in all spheres of life, in sports and while passionately participating in public life. Enterprise Architecture also requires a set of Principles which inform and guide the subsequent development of Enterprise Architecture. In fact, every single Enterprise Architecture Framework in the market place, including SAP EAF and TOGAF, prescribes the creation of Principles as one of the key EA artifacts. TOGAF clearly addresses the need for developing those principles, describes the key characteristics of the Principles and even offers a template to define the Principles.

But the key questions are what is the value of EA Principles and do they really matter?

In practice, “EA Principles” happen to be one of the commonly created EA Artifacts. Architecture Principles serve as high level guidelines and establish the tenets for how an Enterprise Architecture should be developed, maintained and used. Following the development of Enterprise Architecture, the Principles can also guide the design and implementation of individual solutions that result from the definition of Enterprise Architecture. Principles are also critical as they form the basis for driving consensus within an Enterprise while facilitating teams to make key business and IT decisions. Principles established at an enterprise wide level can often be the tie breaker during differences of opinions between two organizations or two project teams. Thus EA Principles can drive consistency in architecture decision making and can facilitate a shared view for architecture development.

It is important to note that in any enterprise, a typical EA program can comprise of multiple projects and can easily span a two to three year period. So it is vital that the Principles developed in the early stages of the EA program are often communicated such that there is widespread awareness and acceptance of those Principles among the key stakeholder groups. It certainly helps if the communication is top-down and delivered by key executives within the enterprise.

In operations of a typical Government, the federal or state laws can only be enforced through effective governance with federal and state agencies serving as vehicles to manage the enforcement of the purpose and intent of those laws. Similarly, in an enterprise setting good architecture governance is needed to enforce EA Principles and to ensure various entities within the enterprise actually apply those Principles in practice. Enterprises have to implement a mechanism to validate and measure adherence to those Principles at both Program and Project levels that fall under the EA umbrella.

It is absolutely important to define a set of core EA Principles in a top-down manner and the enterprise’s executive leadership can enable the following to ensure the Principles are not disregarded. 

  • Create awareness of the Principles by communicating often and every possible opportunity
  • Establish the conditions for the effective adoption of those Principles
  • Adopt a good governance process to enforce compliance with those Principles

I would like to cite two practical examples where the definition of Principles and enforcement of those Principles paid high dividends from an architecture perspective. 

1. In the first example, the CIO of a large enterprise SAP customer established an enterprise wide Principle of “SAP First” and communicated it clearly via various forums.

  • Result: The principle resulted in a common practice that the architecture team first looked into SAP products and solutions to fulfill their functional needs before exploring non-SAP solutions.
  • Benefit: Preventing individual departments to go off on their own to buy Commercial-Off-The-Shelf (COTS) Software and/or build a custom application.

2. In the second example, I worked with the architecture team of a SAP customer who were facing a distinct possibility of merger or divestiture in the next 6 to 9 months. One Principle we were given was that the “target architecture shall be flexible” to enable either merger with another entity or divestiture of one of their business units.

  • Result: This principle offered us a guideline to always consider two scenarios namely integration (in case of merger) or carve out (in case of divestiture) a segment of the architecture during our analysis.
  • Benefit: The analysis exposed some constraints which would not have surfaced and forced the cost of the architecture option to be considered.

In conclusion, EA Principles are vital and would be meaningful if supported by good communication/awareness enablers and a solid governance process.

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