Set up your enterprise technical architecture: The first steps

Enterprise technical architecture is a complex subject, but you can get started with a few crucial moves

Dear Bob ...

I've read bits and pieces about enterprise architecture and enterprise technical architecture over the years. I have no interest in enterprise architecture -- it sounds too much like a bunch of people showing off how smart they are.

[ Also on InfoWorld: Enterprise Windows blogger J. Peter Bruzzese gives you an inside look at the duties of a Microsoft enterprise architect. | Keep up on career advice with Bob Lewis' Advice Line newsletter. ]

However, I'm concerned that my company ought to be paying attention to our enterprise technical architecture. We aren't a very big shop, though, and everything I read about the subject seems far too elaborate for what we need.

Any thoughts on how to do "enterprise technical architecture lite"?

- Tortured

Dear Tortured ...

This is a complex subject, and there are limits to what I can handle in this format. Here are a few ways you can get started without killing yourself with complexity:

  • List a few key business drivers. You don't need to delve into enterprise architecture, but you need some insight into where the business is headed and how that will affect your technical architecture. These are practical topics, not abstractions. If, for example, the business is planning to open a bunch of branch offices, that tells you something important about your future connectivity needs. If it's expecting sales volatility, you're going to need technologies that let you easily add and shed costs (where steady growth suggests the need to invest in scalable infrastructure). And so on.
  • Document your technology portfolio. We divide the subject into the platform, information, and application layers and document each separately. Next, develop a scoring system that lets you grade each item in the portfolio based on such characteristics as internal engineering, fit to function, manageability, currency/obsolescence, and performance. Doing so will keep weak components in front of everyone so that they get the attention they deserve before they turn into a crisis.
  • Compile the basic questions and answer them. The basic questions are such chestnuts as whether you prefer to build or buy; how close to current releases you stay; and whether you're going to have an application-centric or federated architecture (that is, best-of-breed connected through a well-defined integration technology).

This is a big topic, and scaling it down is a lot harder than scaling it up. This ought to get you started.

- Bob

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