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July 24th, 2006: Information Architecture and Enterprise Architecture


Last week I attended a practitioners conference of The Open Group in Miami (Florida, USA) as an invited speaker. My presentation was called "Demand side: The "Customer’s" Architecture --- the key role of (enterprise) information architecture".

The reason for this presentation was a prior discussion I had with John Spencer, Program Director of The Open Group. Summary:

The Open Group is a vendor- and technology-neutral consortium of vendors. Their Architecture Framework is called TOGAF. In my practice as an (enterprise) information architect vendors are contractors. In my opinion it will be very difficult to get demand driven concepts and notions in TOGAF because TOGAF is a supply driven method. It will not be accepted by the market that demand and supply issues are mixed in one method based on business and ethical issues. To give an example: a vendor cannot help out on both the demand and supply side for the same reason you will not find your architect at your contractor in the building world.

The notion of neutral is very different from the notion of independent. It is a very good idea to combine vendors to get neutral standards. The architect on the demand side, however, must be working independently of the vendor/contractor on the supply side. I am currently working with several contractors to find a way to have a professional “translation” from demand to supply and I will be most happy to work with Open Group on this issue. I have worked with more then 200 organisations and you must expect changes in the way of thinking if we are going to do this.

Although IT-vendors cannot be involved in the development of the knowledge of information in an information architecture (because they want to supply solutions) it is very important to be able to know what an organization wants to be able to supply right solutions. My presentation introduces this issue.

The presentation starts with the notion of information in an organisation. Information is defined (in line with ISO/IEC TR9007) as the data that has meaning in the part of the world we are interested cq. work in: our Universe of Discourse (UoD). Based on this definition It is a simple policy for any organisation to try and eliminate all data, and to want to have all information. To do this it becomes very important to know what the information of our UoD is. In general the primary information of an organisation consists of no more then between 3 and 12 entitytypes. A Bank, for instance, has only 3: Persons (organisations and people), Products/services and Agreements persons close for products/services (this is the basis for transactions etc.).

Information can be seen as a fourth corporate resource (next to the original (economic) corporate resources Labor, Nature/Raw Material and Capital Goods). Defining information as a corporate resource completes the knowledge a UoD needs to manage and control their operations and investments. IT has become a very important, sometime strategic means (a capital good) enabling organisations to have the right information at the right place at the right time. Having and maintaining knowledge of information is, amongst others, necessary to manage investment in and exploitation of this IT. Independent how activities are sourced. So, demand side (information) versus supply side (IT).

Architecture is the way people are looking at the reality they "see". In organisations, groups of people with a comparable profession will form and need to share their view on their reality in the organisation (UoD). This is what can be called an architecture. Because there are several kinds of professionals, there will be several architectures.

This is quite different from the notion of architecture the Open Group (and others) have introduced. In fact they are not talking about the concept architecture, they have several architectures. These architectures are "things" by themselves. They are not a shared view on a reality, as is usual in the building world. You have to build, design, create, document etc. every one otf these architectures. Because most of these architectures are somehow related to the IT-infrastructure, the difference between architecture and infrastructure becomes indistinct and difficult.

In my presentation architecture is defined as a shared view on a reality. In the information and IT-sector we work with the following architectures:

  1. IT architecture. The shared view (technical) IT-professionals have on the (technical) IT-infrastructure.
  2. Enterprise (IT) Architecture. The shared view of IT-professionals on the applications/services/systems/... and data, and the effectiveness of its use by the organisation (UoD).
  3. Information Architecture. The shared view of information professionals on the information of their organisation (UoD) on its information as a corporate resource. The Information Architecture must be a complete view on the UoD, and therefore one will be able to derive the specifications needed to procure, develop and maintain IT-solutions.

Outside our professional realm there are other architectures, like the business architecture (where, amongst others, the way people work together in business processes is shown) and others.

Looking at the presentation slide 10 TOGAF is positioned in the above. Combining this with slides 11 and 12 TOGAF is seen as mainly encompassing the work of the IT architect and the Enterprise (IT) Architect. Supply side. The information architect, however, is positioned on the demand side. All of this is in line with the certification as done by SCIA.

Next in the presentation governance is discussed. One of the difficult issues in governance in the Information and IT-sector, today, is the position of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). If the CIO is an IT-manager his/her position will be at tactical level in the organisation (IT is a means, a capital good). If the CIO is a business manager (s)he is usually working at strategic level. In the picture on slide 14 the CIO on strategic level is called CCO: Chief Change Officer. In my opinion this should be the position of the CIO, but in practice it is not so I introduced another acronym for the function. The CCO is supported by the (chief) information architect and the CIO (now tactical) is supported by an enterprise- and an IT-architect. One of the tasks of the (chief) information architect is to make the knowledge of information available to the IT-professionals as specifications or scope of work. This way there ought to be no real difference between insourced and outsourced activities from the perspective of the CCO; projects and operations.


The following points in the presentation are relevant for the work of the Open Group and for IT-vendors (softwarehouses, systemhouses and IT-consultancy) in general:

  1. The notion of information next to the notion of data is very important because a UoD is only interested in its information. Based on the definitions of ISO/IEC TR9007 on Conceptual Schemas (1983) information can be seen as a corporate resource. It enables organisations to manage their investments in and exploitation of IT.
  2. Information is a corporate resource and IT is a means, one of the capital goods. It is impossible to outsource the knowledge of information because it is a corporate resource and as such it is one of the defining factors of the organisation. Outsourcing IT may be possible.
  3. Architecture is a shared view on a reality. In our case usually an organisation. This is quite different from the notion of architectures as developed and promoted by The Open Group (and others). The definition of architecture of The Open Group is very close to the definition of infrastructure, and is hardly compatible with the use of the word architecture in the building world. The are talking about an architecture, not about architecture. Architecture is not a method, a model, a development method, a documentation method, a modeling language or something domain oriented.
  4. The Enterprise and the IT architecture are positioned on the supply side, while the Information Architecture is positioned on the demand side. It is virtually impossible as a supplier to work on both sides, mainly based on ethical and business issues.
  5. Governance of IT is more and more positioned at tactical level of the organisation, where capital goods are managed. This does not mean IT is not of strategic importance for an organisation. At strategic level (information) management is based on information as a corporate resource, and the knowledge of information is used manage and control IT as a business.
  6. IT-vendors (softwarehouses, systemhouses and IT-consultancy agencies) are working comparable to contractors in the building industry. On the supply side. In 2006 there are hardly any suppliers dedicated to work on the demand-side, yet. The support professionals in organisations can get for their work with information is limited and scarce. Independent support is hard to find.
  7. Being is quite different from being independent. Neutrality means one is looking for a best solution for everybody, while independence means one is searching for the best professional solution. Neutral may be the ultimate solution if you have participating organisations who will have to change if the result is not enough in line with they work today. Independent will be looking for the best professional solution. See also the weblog Neutral versus Independent.
  8. The term Enterprise Architecture is difficult to understand for none IT-professionals. At the moment it is NOT the view on the enterprise as it works itself. Enterprise architecture looks at IT effectiveness in its support of its organisation. It would be much clearer if we could talk about IT-business of IT-enterprise architecture instead of Enterprise Architecture. Currently the term is very confusing for non-IT people.

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