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Research

Publication Date: 12 July 2006 ID Number: G00141795

Gartner Defines the Term 'Enterprise Architecture'


Anne Lapkin

There are almost as many definitions of "enterprise architecture" as there are enterprise
architects. Recently, Gartner's EA research community came together to develop a
comprehensive definition of the term to identify, bound and scope the concept for
Gartner's research.

© 2006 Gartner, Inc. and/or its Affiliates. All Rights Reserved. Reproduction and distribution of this publication in any form
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ANALYSIS

In discussions with our clients, we frequently find that the term "enterprise architecture" means
significantly different things to different organizations (and even among different constituencies in
the same organization!). In general, bad things happen when two people use the same words to
represent entirely different concepts. Wars have been started for less. Gartner believes,
therefore, that a single common definition of "enterprise architecture" will contribute to our ability
to communicate important concepts not only across organizational boundaries, but also within
them.
Gartner's enterprise architecture (EA) research community recently came together to develop a
comprehensive, consistent definition for the term "enterprise architecture." For the definition to be
truly useful, we believe it must cover multiple dimensions of the subject:

• What it is — What does it comprise?

• What the scope is — What does it cover?

• What the result is — What do you get when you're done?

• What the benefit is — Why do organizations do this?


In addition, it is important to establish what is meant by the word "enterprise" embedded in the
term.

Examining Established Definitions


As a first step, we explored the definitions currently in use. Even among standards bodies,
industry consortia and reference works, variations abound.
IEEE 1471-2000, a standard promulgated by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers,
defines the recommended practice for creating architectural descriptions of software-intensive
systems (a software-intensive system is any system where software contributes essential
influences to the design, construction, deployment and evolution of the system as a whole).
Although initially targeted toward software-intensive systems, Gartner believes that the definition
of "architecture" can easily be applied to an entire enterprise. IEEE 1471-2000 defines an
architecture as follows:

• "… the fundamental organization of a system, embodied in its components, their


relationships to each other and the environment, and the principles governing its design
and evolution."
This definition describes what an architecture is ("the fundamental organization of a system" and
"the principles governing its design and evolution"), but it is deficient in terms of scope
("embodied in its components" is open to interpretation and could mean just about anything).
Further, IEEE 1471-2000 fails to cover the other components that we believe are important: the
result and the benefit. Additionally, Gartner believes that enterprise architecture is both a process
and a thing. The IEEE definition leaves out the process component completely. It should be
noted, however, that IEEE 1471 does contain several important components of the definition —
the notion of current- and future-state views of the architecture, and the idea that an architecture
is composed of not only the models that describe the organization of the system, but also the
principles that govern its design (How will we make architectural decisions?) and evolution (What
do we do differently tomorrow that will move us closer to our desired future state?).

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© 2006 Gartner, Inc. and/or its Affiliates. All Rights Reserved.
We then turned to The Open Group, an industry consortium with a very active architecture
working group, which has developed a widely used EA process and framework — The Open
Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF). According to TOGAF, an enterprise architecture is:
1. "A formal description of a system, or a detailed plan of the system at component level to
guide its implementation.
2. The structure of components, their interrelationships, and the principles and guidelines
governing their design and evolution over time."
This definition, very similar to the IEEE definition, captures the idea of models illustrating the
future state and the principles that guide the design and evolution, but it lacks the process
component (strange, since TOGAF is a very process-rich framework). It also lacks the result and
benefit components that we believe are critical to this definition.
Finally, we turned to Wikipedia. Due to the community-edited nature of Wikipedia, we felt it would
provide a good indication of a broader consensus regarding a definition of EA. Wikipedia says:

• "Enterprise architecture is the practice of applying a comprehensive and rigorous


method for describing a current or future structure for an organization's processes,
information systems, personnel and organizational sub-units, so that they align with the
organization's core goals and strategic direction."
This definition captures the process component of enterprise architecture, provides a better
definition of the scope and does a better job of communicating what benefits EA is meant to
deliver. However, it doesn't address the concept of change or transformation that we believe is
critical to EA, nor does it address any of the key ingredients of an architecture (such as principles
and models).

Defining "Enterprise"
Our examination of the respective strengths and shortcomings of these and other definitions sets
the backdrop for our own efforts to define the term. Before examining the definition Gartner
developed, however, it is important to first consider our understanding of the word "enterprise."
By Gartner's definition, an enterprise is a collection of organizations that share a common set of
goals and objectives. In this context, an enterprise can be a business unit, an entire corporation,
a government agency or a collection of businesses joined together in a partnership.
Differences in the scope of the enterprise should not (and do not) affect the definition of
"enterprise architecture," which is standard and common. However, an important initial step in
developing an enterprise architecture is defining the scope of the enterprise (see "Chartering the
Enterprise Architecture Program").

Defining "Enterprise Architecture"


We came up with both a short definition and a long one. The short (single-sentence) version
encompasses the most important concepts:

• Enterprise architecture is the process of translating business vision and strategy into
effective enterprise change by creating, communicating and improving the key principles
and models that describe the enterprise's future state and enable its evolution.
The short definition tells us what EA is: a process that creates, communicates and improves
principles and models that guide the evolution of the enterprise. However, to address all the
critical aspects of the definition, an expanded definition is required:

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© 2006 Gartner, Inc. and/or its Affiliates. All Rights Reserved.
• Enterprise architecture is the process of translating business vision and strategy into
effective enterprise change by creating, communicating and improving the key principles
and models that describe the enterprise's future state and enable its evolution. The
scope of the enterprise architecture includes the people, processes, information and
technology of the enterprise, and their relationships to one another and to the external
environment. Enterprise architects compose holistic solutions that address the business
challenges of the enterprise and support the governance needed to implement them.
This longer definition can be broken down into the following components:

• "Enterprise architecture is the process ..." — EA is a process and a thing. It is an


undertaking pursued on a continuous basis, rather than a project that is simply
constructed and implemented with a defined beginning and end.

• "... of translating business vision and strategy ..." — Vision and strategy are key. Strong
architectures are driven out of the business strategy of an organization. Without the
input of the business, an EA initiative will amount to little more than "architecting for the
sake of architecting."

• "... into effective enterprise change ..." — The reason we pursue an architecture initiative
is to support change. If no change is required, no EA is required.

• "... by creating, communicating and improving the key principles and models ..." — The
critical output of an enterprise architecture effort is process, information and technology
change. The principles that guide decisions, and models that illustrate the result of those
decisions, are key enablers of that change.

• "... that describe the enterprise's future state and enable its evolution." — The objectives
of the enterprise architecture are to design the future state to support the strategic
needs of the business and to define a course of action to get from where the business is
to where it is going. This means that the enterprise architecture will provide guidance to
the initiatives in the project portfolio, as well as suggest new initiatives to help close the
gap.

• "The scope of the enterprise architecture includes the people, processes, information
and technology of the enterprise, and their relationships to one another and to the
external environment." — The scope of enterprise architecture extends well beyond
technology and covers business processes, organization, information and technology —
all of which are interdependent. This does not mean that the architecture team controls
all those components, but it is responsible for integrating the future vision of those
components into a coherent whole.

• "Enterprise architects compose holistic solutions that address the business challenges
of the enterprise and support the governance needed to implement them." — Architects
are involved not only in the creation of the enterprise architecture, but also in the
governance and strategic planning processes that support the creation of new and
improved capabilities to support the business in the future.
Gartner's research community reached consensus on a definition that we could all support.
However, some members felt that we had missed the mark in terms of boiling down EA to a
simple definition. To meet this need, they proposed (and the community ratified) the simplest
definition of all:

• Enterprise architecture is the business of architecting the enterprise.

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© 2006 Gartner, Inc. and/or its Affiliates. All Rights Reserved.
Bottom Line
Numerous, conflicting interpretations of the term "enterprise architecture" cause confusion and
obstruct the benefits that a common understanding of the concept enables. Without a common
understanding, different practitioners scope the term differently and have different notions
regarding the outputs and benefits. The formal definition presented here is intended to mitigate
such issues by describing and bounding the concept for the purposes of Gartner's research. We
will periodically revisit and possibly revise this definition as the discipline of enterprise architecture
develops and evolves.

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© 2006 Gartner, Inc. and/or its Affiliates. All Rights Reserved.