Enterprise architecture definition
Enterprise architecture (EA) is the practice of analyzing, designing, planning, and implementing enterprise analysis to successfully execute on business strategies. EA helps organizations structure IT projects and policies to achieve desired business results, to stay agile and resilient in the face of rapid change, and to stay on top of industry trends and disruptions using architecture principles and practices, a process also known as enterprise architectural planning (EAP).
Modern EA strategies now extend this philosophy to the entire business, not just IT, to ensure the business is aligned with digital transformation strategies and technological growth. EA is especially useful for large businesses going through digital transformation, because it focuses on bringing legacy processes and applications together to form a more seamless environment.
Goals of enterprise architecture
EA is guided by the organization’s business requirements — it helps lay out how information, business, and technology flow together. This has become a priority for businesses that are trying to keep up with new technologies such as the cloud, IoT, machine learning, and other emerging trends that will prompt digital transformation.
The process is driven by a “comprehensive picture of an entire enterprise from the perspectives of owner, designer, and builder,” according to the EABOK. Unlike other frameworks, EA doesn’t include a formal documentation structure; instead, it’s intended to offer a more holistic view of the enterprise.
Another main priority with EA is agility and ensuring that your EA strategy has a strong focus on agility and agile adoption. With a solid EA strategy, companies can better weather complex and fast-moving change, and can even put your organization in a position to thrive during turbulent times. Organizations that scored in the top quartile for EA maturity in a recent Bizzdesign survey were three times more likely to report having organizational agility, which has been crucial during the past few years with the COVID-19 pandemic. Only 20% of respondents said that their EA programs allowed for faster innovation and faster time to market, while just 6% claimed that enterprise architects were included in agile teams and had the authority to influence technology decisions.
A good EA strategy considers the latest innovations in business processes, organizational structure, agility, information systems, and technologies. It will also include standard language and best practices for business processes, including analyzing where processes can be integrated or eliminated throughout the organization. The goal of any good EA strategy is to improve the efficiency, timeliness, and reliability of business information. Of course, to implement any EA strategy, you will also need to ensure that you have buy-in from other executives and stakeholders.
EA, and its goals, however, are constantly evolving. According to Bizzdesign’s survey of over 1,000 enterprise architects and IT business leaders, the top priorities to improve the impact of EA in 2022 include improving communication about the value of EA to the business (56%) as well as improving the development and adoption of EA processes (50%). Other priorities include delivering more strategic insights (41%), getting more active support from senior management (33%), and investing in additional EA resources, training, and certification (32%).
Benefits of enterprise architecture
There are several benefits to enterprise architecture, including resiliency and adaptability, managing supply chain disruptions, staff recruitment and retention, improved product and service delivery, and tracking data and APIs. EA can offer support for redesigns and reorganization, especially during major organizational changes, mergers, or acquisitions. It’s also useful for bringing more discipline into the organization by standardizing and consolidating processes for more consistency.
Bizzdesigns asked respondents what IT benefits their EA program currently delivers and the top response was improved IT investment decisions. Other benefits include improved service-orientation via APIs and the cloud, rationalized and less costly application portfolios, reduced risk and cost of unsupported technology, improved information management and security, solutions to reuse existing IT assets, better performance and resilience, faster and more successful implementations and updates, and better automation.
In terms of business benefits, respondents cited improvements with the alignment of capabilities with strategy, business investment decisions, compliance and risk management, business processes, collaboration between functions, business insights, business agility and continuity, and a faster time to market and innovation. Companies leading the way for EA maturity were more likely to cite experiencing these benefits from the company’s EA strategy compared to the companies that are lagging behind in EA maturity.
EA is also used in systems development, IT management and decision-making, and IT risk management to eliminate errors, system failures, and security breaches. It can also help businesses navigate complex IT structures or to make IT more accessible to other business units.
According to CompTIA, benefits of EAP include:
Allowing more open collaboration between IT and business units
Giving business the ability to prioritize investments
Making it easier to evaluate existing architecture against long-term goals
Establishing processes to evaluate and procure technology
Giving comprehensive view of IT architecture to all business units outside of IT
Providing a benchmarking framework to compare results against other organizations or standards
Enterprise architecture methodologies
Enterprise architecture can appear vague as a framework because it’s meant to address the entire organization, instead of individual needs, problems, or business units. Therefore, several more specific frameworks have evolved to help companies effectively implement and track EAP, including the following four leading EA methodologies, according to CompTIA:
The Open Group Architectural Framework (TOGAF): TOGAF provides principles for designing, planning, implementing, and governing enterprise IT architecture. The TOGAF framework helps businesses create a standardized approach to EA with a common vocabulary, recommended standards, compliance methods, suggested tools and software and a method to define best practices. The TOGAF framework is widely popular as an enterprise architect framework, and according to The Open Group it’s been adopted by more than 80% of the world’s leading enterprises.
The Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architecture: The Zachman framework is named after one of the original founders of enterprise architecture and it’s another popular EA methodology. It’s better understood as a “taxonomy,” according to CompTIA, and it spans six architectural focal points and six primary stakeholders to help standardize and define the IT architecture components and outputs.
Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework (FEAF): FEAF was introduced in 1996 as a response to the Clinger-Cohen act, which introduced mandates for IT effectiveness in federal agencies. It’s designed for the U.S. government, but it can also be applied to private companies that want to use the framework.
Gartner: After acquiring The Meta Group in 2005, Gartner established best practices for EAP and adapted them into the company’s general consulting practices. While it’s not an individual framework, CompTIA recognizes it as a “practical” methodology that focuses on business outcomes with “few explicit steps or components.”
Other EA methodologies include the European Space Agency Architectural Framework (ESAAF), the Ministry of Defence Architecture Framework (MODAF), and the SAP Enterprise Architecture Framework, among many others. These frameworks are specifically targeted to individual industries or products, targeting more of a niche market than the more generalized EA methodologies listed above.
Enterprise architect role
Enterprise architects typically report to the CIO or other IT managers. They’re responsible for analyzing business structures and processes to see that they align with business goals effectively and efficiently. As an enterprise architect, you’ll also be responsible for ensuring these structures and processes are agile and durable, so they can swiftly adapt and withstand major change.
It’s a lucrative role, with a reported average salary of $137,900 per year, with a reported salary range of $97,000 to $201,000 per year, according to data from PayScale. Enterprise architects often go on to work as a CTO, software engineering or development director, or CIO.
To become an enterprise architect, you’ll need an undergraduate degree in computer science, information technology, or a related field and at least 10 years of experience in IT or a related field. You’ll also need hands-on experience working with computer systems, hard drives, mainframes, and other architecture technology. Enterprise architects need several soft skills to be successful, including communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, leadership, and teamwork.
According to PayScale, the most commonly reported hard skills for an IT enterprise architect include:
Microsoft SharePoint Server
Artificial intelligence (AI)
Enterprise application integration
For more see, “7 traits of successful enterprise architecture.”
Enterprise architecture tools and software
Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint are the two most basic tools you’ll use for enterprise architectural planning. However, there are other third-party tools and software suites that will help you create advanced EA strategies for your business.
There are plenty of ways to integrate EA tools into your organization so that they support other systems and processes in the business. In the Bizzdesign survey, respondents were asked which systems and content types were integrated into the company’s EA management tools and business process models (59%), data modeling system (49%), project management tools (35%), ITSM tool (31%), and configuration management platform (31%) were among the top five responses.
According to data from Gartner Peer Insights, here are some of the popular options currently on the market:
For a deeper look, see “Top enterprise architecture tools.”
Enterprise architecture certifications
There are several certifications you can earn to demonstrate your EA skills, including more specific certifications that focus on skills like cloud and security architecture.
Certifications for enterprise architecture include:
TOGAF 9 Certification
The Open group Certified Architect (Open CA)
AWS Certified Solution Architect
Salesforce Certified Technical Architect (CTA)
Axelos ITIL Master certification
Microsoft Certified: Azure Solutions Architect Expert
Google Professional Cloud Architect
Virtualization Council Master Infrastructure Architect certification
CISSP Information Systems Security Architecture Professional (ISSAP)
Dell EMC Cloud architect training and certification
Red Hat Certified Architect
EC Council Certified Network Defense Architect (CNDA)
See also: 12 certifications for enterprise architects.
Origins of enterprise architecture
EA began in the 1960s, born from “various architectural manuscripts on Business Systems Planning (BSP) by Professor Dewey Walker,” according to the Enterprise Architecture Book of Knowledge (EABOK). John Zachmann, one of Walker’s students, helped formulate those documents into the more structured format of EA. Both men also worked for IBM during this time, and that’s when Zachman published the framework in the IBM Systems Journal in 1987.
The EA framework came as a response to the increase of business technology, especially in the 1980s when computer systems were just taking hold in the workplace. Companies soon realized they would need a plan and long-term strategy to support the rapid growth of technology and that remains true today.
More on enterprise architecture:
Five areas where EA matters more than ever
The dark secrets of enterprise architecture
7 enterprise architecture mistakes to avoid
5 steps to minimum viable enterprise architecture
7 traits of successful enterprise architects
Top enterprise architecture tools
Enterprise architecture in the agile era: Loss policing, more coaching
Top certifications for enterprise architects
6 reasons to invest in enterprise architecture tools
What is an enterprise architect? A vital role for IT operations
Enterprise Architecture, IT Governance Frameworks, IT Leadership, IT Strategy