What is enterprise architecture and how will ESA change it?

What is enterprise architecture and how will ESA change it?

An enterprise architecture is two things, only one of which has to do with IT. The first step to creating an enterprise architecture is to understand how the business should best be organized. An enterprise architecture begins with business goals, which are met through the design of a complex of interrelated business processes. The second step specifies how IT will support that organization and the underlying processes.

Historically, enterprise architects have been limited in their ability to design with processes and IT solutions to support them by the flexibility of enterprise applications such as Enterprise Resources Planning (ERP), Customer Relationship Management (CRM), Supply Chain Management (SCM), and the like. Enterprise applications started as large, complex collections of processes that were configurable up to a point. So an ERP application contained a basic process for running purchase orders or invoices, a CRM application had a basic process for handling a customer inquiry, and an SCM application had various processes embedded within it for interacting with suppliers, monitoring the factory floor, or managing inventory, to name a few.

It is easy to forget that before the advent of ERP and the rest of the enterprise applications that emerged, most business processes lacked standardization. The first generation of enterprise applications created a standard form for the automation of the common processes that appeared in most businesses. The architecture of enterprise applications allowed for configurability, but that was not the main point. When the requirements that these enterprise applications met remained stable, the applications did their job brilliantly.

The challenge for enterprise architectsthe managers tasked with defining and refining an enterprise architecturecame when new business requirements and new business processes were needed. They were forced to tailor their organization's appetite for new processes as closely as possible to the business logic embedded in existing applications. It quickly became clear, however, that many processes might start in CRM, move to ERP, and then finish in SCM, and the challenge for these architects and for IT departments became understanding, defining, and adapting these processes to work within these constraints. In many other cases, businesses became frustrated at their inability to adapt the processes embedded in standardized applications to meet their emerging needs.

Enterprise architecture soon became the dark art of splitting the differences between the functionality provided in enterprise applications and the actual needs of your business and then solving urgent problems via expensive and time-consuming custom applications and integration efforts.

ESA was created to satisfy the needs of modern businesses that are interested in process innovation, which means being able to automate new processes as well as improve and optimize stable processes to take advantage of new challenges. Dell, for example, is famously successful, not because of any innovative products (it builds all of its products using off-the-shelf parts), but because of the execution and continual refinement of its supply chain and manufacturing processes.

The demand for flexibility to automate new processes and to improve existing ones changes the landscape dramatically. The standard processes of enterprise applications explode into smaller bundles of enterprise services built to execute proportionally smaller tasks. So now, for example, one service might accept a purchase order and another one might validate that order according to a defined set of rules. A metaservice might control the handoff of data from one service to another as it's passed along a string of orchestrated processes designed to reflect how the real-world business process actually works.

ESA preserves the gains of the previous generation of enterprise applications while introducing flexibility. All of the standard processes that made ERP, CRM, and other enterprise applications so vital to efficient operations will stay in place. Instead of being powered by monolithic architectures, however, they will be powered by services. The existence of services is the engine of flexibility. It's not important where these services originatewhether in ERP, CRM, or SCMbecause it's now possible to orchestrate them independently. The Enterprise Services Repository incorporates, a central tank of services that SAP has created for customers, and it will include services that companies create on their own. All of these services will be stored for use and reuse, subject to the rules and standards implicit in ESA.

What does this mean? It means that instead of having to think of business processes within the constraints imposed by the limits of today's enterprise applications, you and your enterprise architects can begin mapping the functionality of a service or collection of services to the actual needs of your business. The barriers to adapting services to your needs are much lower, thanks to their finer granularity. Instead of splitting the difference between the functionality available and your actual need, you can focus on adapting these highly granular services to match your processes perfectly. And because the processes aren't welded together with hard code, but rather are knitted together with modeling tools and process orchestration mechanisms, you should have a much easier time adjusting and readjusting the alignment of these services over time to meet your needs.

In this new world, the CIO is transformed into a chief process innovation officer, someone who focuses less on tools and ensuring that the IT environment does not break and more on perfecting processes and realigning IT resources to support them. The chief IT officer will focus on creating the systems to support these processes and squeezing out costs and inefficiency.

One simple way to think of ESA is as a technical enabler required for process innovation. In the previous generation of enterprise architecture, processes were automated but not flexible. Enterprise services promise to make them automated and flexible at an affordable cost.

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