Enterprise architecture to the rescue

Now more than ever we need enterprise architects to untangle legacy systems and processes -- and to embrace such exciting new developments as the consumerization of IT

To decide which way to go, you often need to get a bird's-eye view and survey the landscape around you. This top-down perspective has always been the hallmark of enterprise architecture (EA). From a certain elevation, patterns emerge, such as how business processes and objectives connect with technology initiatives, what modifications might increase efficiency and agility, and where the potential barriers to change may lie.

In this year's InfoWorld/Forrester Enterprise Architecture Awards, six organizations stood out in their ability to use EA to look deep into business processes and develop solutions based on best practices and improved technologies that can drive the business forward.

[ Read all about the winners of the 2011 InfoWorld/Forrester Enterprise Architecture Awards. | For more on infrastructure convergence, see "What converged networking really means" by InfoWorld's Matt Prigge, and for good measure check out his private cloud Deep Dive. ]

The practice of EA is sometimes regarded as a luxury for big companies that can afford a self-improvement department. But in challenging times like these, EA is a necessity. At no other point in the history of business computing has IT been under such pressure to improve its ability to deliver while freezing or cutting operating costs. At the same time, mobile technology, cloud computing, and virtualization have fundamentally changed the nature of IT infrastructure and, in so doing, have expanded the purview of the enterprise architect.

Virtualization in particular has accelerated a fundamental shift in IT away from dedicated resources to shared infrastructure. More advanced organizations are taking this consolidation to the next phase with converged infrastructure. On the application level, a number of enterprises, including three winners of this year's Enterprise Architecture Awards -- American Express, First Data, and Singapore's Ministry of Education -- are realizing the benefits of SOA, which enables IT to assemble applications from shared best-in-class services.

Pretty much everyone understands how huge economies of scale can be realized through pooled, shared resources, as opposed to the fragmented, dedicated variety. But this reconfiguration also changes the relationship between IT and business. With separate technology resources for each business initiative, ROI was easy to determine and the lines of responsibility were clear. Today, new methods must be in place to provide business visibility and IT accountability -- and enterprise architects are the best candidates to lead in this endeavor.

At the same time, today's enterprise architects are in a good position to determine which services are appropriate for internal IT to provide and which workloads would be better handled by a commercial public cloud service. In straddling business and IT, enterprise architects can provide an objective assessment of whether a SaaS application, an IaaS provider, or even consumer-grade mobile technology might be more suitable than a home-grown solution, so that internal IT can focus on more appropriate initiatives.

In times of accelerated change, the vantage point of the enterprise architect is more essential than ever. We're happy to be able to honor outstanding EA practitioners with the 2011 InfoWorld/Forrester Enterprise Architecture Awards, and we hope you find their examples useful.

This article, "Enterprise architecture to the rescue," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog, and for the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld on Twitter.