Optimizing process and IT through Enterprise Architecture in SMEs: a simple framework

10 December 2019

Written by Jochem Verburg

Enterprise Architecture (EA) provides great methods and tools to align and optimize the processes and IT in your organization. Although the principles of EA are mainly adopted in large organizations, it can also provide great value to SMEs. If you want to know more about this value, read our previous blog about EA. This blog will discuss how you can model your own Enterprise Architecture.

There are many existing EA frameworks like the Zachman framework, ArchiMate and IAF. They’re all very comprehensive and contain lots of options to include all different aspects of an organization. However, they don’t provide what SMEs need: simplicity. SMEs need a framework that can be filled in a time efficient manner, that is easy to understand and does not need a lot of external resources. The frameworks mentioned, however, contain so many objects that would take one employee a lifetime to fill in and need a lot of specific knowledge to understand.

What should a simple framework include?

As said, the existing framework are overly complex by the overwhelming number of different things that are modelled (1). Therefore, to make an Enterprise Architecture easier to understand and make, it’s most important to reduce this number.

Let’s have a look at the foundation of all frameworks. Originally, they were developed as a tool for business-IT alignment and divided in three layers of a pyramid: technology, application and business.

Figure 1 The traditional EA pyramid 

However, lately the focus is more and more shifting towards the business as the foundation. At the top of the pyramid is the WHY, the goals of the organization. You want to achieve the goals by building a solid foundation through the HOW (which represents the processes and way of working). These can be executed by involving the WHAT (software, information, tools, etc.) and the WHO (people in- and outside the organization).

Figure 2 The WHY as the top of the pyramid 

By thinking in terms of why, how, what and who, an Enterprise Architecture can already become a lot easier to use. You only need a different type of object for each of these dimensions and should use self-explanatory and clear names. Additionally, you don’t need a lot of different arrows to cover each different type of relation; it can be more than enough to use one type of arrow and clear labels, like needs, conflicts, supports, executes, etc.

In conclusion, by starting with these simple dimensions (why, how, what and who) you can already easily create an Enterprise Architecture. You can still use other frameworks as inspiration, but these dimensions cover the bases.

(1) Bernaert, M., Poels, G., Snoeck, M., & Backer, M. (2013). Enterprise Architecture for Small and Medium-Sized Enterprises: A Starting Point for Bringing EA to SMEs, Based on Adoption Models. Information Systems for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises: State of Art of IS Research in SMEs.

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