Enterprise Architecture Defined: Complexity and Change

Written by John A. Zachman on Thursday, 07 February 2019. Posted in Zachman International

Architecture is a SET of Descriptive Representations.

I the object you are trying to create is simple, you can see the whole thing at the level of definition required to create it ... like a log cabin ... or a computer program ... you don't need Architecture. All you need is a tool, like an axe of a compiler or something and some raw material like a forest, or some data or something, and some time, then build log cabins or write computer programs.

On the other hand, if the object is complex and you can't see it in its entirety at the level of definition required to create it, like a hundred story building ... or an Enterprise ... now you need Architecture!

In short ... the reasons you need Architecture are complexity and change.

In terms of complexity ... if you can’t describe it, you can’t create it!

If somebody hadn’t figured out how to describe buildings, you’d be living in a log cabin. If somebody hadn’t figured out how to describe airplanes, I’d travel around teaching and consulting in a covered wagon. If somebody hadn’t figured out how to describe automobiles, you‘d show up to work every day on a horse. If somebody hadn’t figured out how to describe computers, you’d be adding up columns of numbers with pencils and paper. Actually, it’d be worse... you'd be moving little doughnuts around on wires. If you can’t describe it, you can’t create it!

In terms of change ... if you don’t retain the descriptive representations for the object after you create it ... or if you never created them in the first place ... and you need to change the resultant implementation, you only have three options:

a. You can change the instance and see what happens (high risk).

b. You can reverse engineer the architectural descriptions from the existing instantiation (takes time and costs money), or

c. You can scrap the whole thing and build a new one.

These three options exhaust the total set of possibilities.

Here is a vivid Illustration of options:

This is really easy to see in buildings. You are probably sitting in a building as you are reading this (or on an airplane or on a cruise liner or something) ... the principle will be the same.

Let’s assume that whoever owns the building takes an order to put 5,000 people in the building tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM, for a big conference, banquet style seating, round tables, 10 people at a table and they take the order. You notice, nobody is turning down orders these days! “Take the order ... we’ll figure out what to do later!” (If you happen to be sitting in a Conference Center, picture yourself sitting in an office building or an apartment for purposes of this illustration.)

Well, they are not likely to put 5,000 people sitting at round tables, 10 people at a table in the room you are sitting in ... something will have to change. They will probably have to break out one or two or three or all four walls, open up the whole floor ... maybe even a second or third floor. So, how do you do this?

You call up the Engineering Department and say, “Okay you guys ... We have 5,000 people showing up tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM and we need tables for 10, banquet-style seating, big conference and we have to change the building ... so send up the Architecture so we can figure out what to do.” What if the Engineering Department says, “Send up the what? The Architecture?! The Building Architecture?!! You mean Building-wide Architecture?!!! You mean Building-WIDE Architecture at EXCRUCIATING level of detail so you can see where the wires are, the outlets, the lighting fixtures, the pipes, the water pipes, the sewage pipes, the weight-bearing members and everything??!!!! Well, you can’t do that! You can not produce Building-wide Architecture at excruciating level of detail! ... it would take too long, cost too much!! ... and anyway, even if we had taken the time and spent the money, the Building-wide Architecture we would have would not be any good for what you want to do with it anyway because you guys keep changing the building and we couldn’t keep the Architecture up to date so it wouldn’t reflect the ‘as is’ configuration of the current building ... so ... we don’t have any Architecture!”

Ohhhhh. Hmmmmm. Now what?

Well, you have three options:

a. You can get a bunch of guys with axes and sledge hammers to come in and start knocking out the walls ... not with me in that building! You could make some rather small changes and lose the whole thing!!

This is not a very tasteful metaphor to use right now, but you could take the strength members out of a hundred story building around the 90th floor elevator shafts and the thing could implode on you!

“Jeeeeze! We don’t want to do that! Too much risk. Maybe we’d better call an Architect and have him help us.

b. The Architect arrives ... “We have 5,000 people showing up tomorrow morning at 8:00 AM and we want banquet style seating, round tables, 10 people at a table so we have to change the building ... when can you start to work?

The Architect says, “Well, I can start right now but ... where’s your Architecture?” “We don’t have any Architecture. That’s why we called you, you know!” “WHAT?!! You want ME to change YOUR building and you DON’T HAVE any Architecture? Are you crazy?! Nobody in their right mind is going to change this building without any Architecture!”

The Architect would be in there with drills and tape measures trying to re-create the Architecture from the standing edifice. He or she would be “reverse engineering” the Architectural representations from the existing instantiation. The Architect would go down to the library to try to find pictures of the building being built in the newspaper. They would do all kinds of research before they ever touch that building! That takes time and costs money!

“Well, we can’t do that!”

Well, here’s your third option:

c. Tear this building down and build a new one ... only this time build it with a bigger room.

Those are your three options if you have to change something that already exists for which there is no Architecture.

Once again, the reason you need Architecture is to accommodate complexity and high rates of change. And, ARCHITECTURE IS A SET OF DESCRIPTIVE REPRESENTATIONS.


About the Author

John A. Zachman

John A. Zachman

John A. Zachman is the originator of the “Framework for Enterprise Architecture” (The Zachman Framework™) which has received broad acceptance around the world as an integrative framework, an ontology for descriptive representations for Enterprises. Mr. Zachman is not only known for this work on Enterprise Architecture, but is also known for his early contributions to IBM’s Information Strategy methodology (Business Systems Planning) as well as to their Executive team planning techniques (Intensive Planning).

Mr. Zachman retired from IBM in 1990, having served them for 26 years. He is Founder and Chairman of his own education and consulting business, Zachman International®. He is also the Executive Director of the Federated Enterprise Architecture Certification Institute (The FEAC® Institute) in Washington, D.C., as well as the Chairman of the Zachman Institute™, a non-profit organization devoted to leveraging Zachman International's vast network of professionals and resources to offer services to small businesses and non-profit organizations as they prepare for and experience growth.

Mr. Zachman serves on the Executive Council for Information Management and Technology (ECIMT) of the United States Government Accountability Office (GAO) and on the Advisory Board of the Data Administration Management Association International (DAMA-I) from whom he was awarded the 2002 Lifetime Achievement Award. In August 2015, Mr. Zachman was awarded a Lifetime Achievement Award for “recognition of his long term impact and contribution to how people think and practice Enterprise Architecture today, leaving his mark on generations to come” by the Global University Alliance and LEADing Practice. He was awarded the 2009 Enterprise Architecture Professional Lifetime Achievement Award from the Center for Advancement of the Enterprise Architecture Profession as well as the 2004 Oakland University, Applied Technology in Business (ATIB), Award for IS Excellence and Innovation. In August 2011, he was awarded the Gen. Colin Powell Public Sector Image Award by the Armed Services Alliance Program. In November 2013 he was acknowledged for Achievement and Excellence for Distinguished Innovative Academic Contribution by the IEEE Systems, Man and Cybernetics Society Technical Committees on Enterprise Information Systems and on Enterprise Architecture and Engineering.

Mr. Zachman has been focusing on Enterprise Architecture since 1970 and has written extensively on the subject. He has facilitated innumerable executive team planning sessions. He travels nationally and internationally, teaching and consulting, and is a popular conference speaker, known for his motivating messages on Enterprise Architecture issues. He has spoken to many thousands of enterprise managers and information professionals on every continent.

In addition to his professional activities, Mr. Zachman serves on the Elder Council of the Church on the Way (First Foursquare Church of Van Nuys, California), the Board of Directors of Living Way Ministries, a radio and television ministry of the Church on the Way, the President’s Cabinet of the King’s University, the Board of Directors of the Los Angeles Citywide Children’s Christian Choir, the Board of Directors of Heavenworks, an international ministry to the French-speaking world and on the Board of Directors of Native Hope International, a Los Angeles-based ministry to the Native American people.

Prior to joining IBM, Mr. Zachman served as a line officer in the United States Navy and is a retired Commander in the U. S. Naval Reserve. He chaired a panel on "Planning, Development and Maintenance Tools and Methods Integration" for the U. S. National Institute of Standards and Technology. He holds a degree in Chemistry from Northwestern University, has taught at Tufts University, has served on the Board of Councilors for the School of Library and Information Management at the University of Southern California, as a Special Advisor to the School of Library and Information Management at Emporia State University, on the Advisory Council to the School of Library and Information Management at Dominican University and on the Advisory Board for the Data Resource Management Program at the University of Washington. He has been a Fellow for the College of Business Administration of the University of North Texas and currently is listed in Cambridge Who’s Who.

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