The Architecture of Architecture, Part I

Are these legitimate roles and titles? What do they all have in common that warrants the shared rubric “architect?” And why “architect” rather than “designer”? OK, maybe even “Master Designer?”

Our discipline has a penchant for self aggrandizement. Taking a cue from The World Series and the Miss Universe Pageant, we give much bigger names to things than they really deserve; trusting implicitly that we’ll never have to deal with anything actually that big. The same bits we used to call data we now call information. What was called “electronic data processing” when I started programming has become “information technology,” or even more grandly, “business technology.”

If you didn’t know better, you’d think that enterprise architecture meant the architecture of an enterprise: the entire enterprise, not just its IT assets. If the “enterprise” is really just the IT department, and “architecture” is really just design, why are we calling “IT design” enterprise architecture (other than to make ourselves feel important, and earn a few extra bucks)?

Well, I for one (and I know I’m not just one) believe that enterprise architecture is a legitimate name for a critical discipline that is much more than just “IT design.” As a former Architecture Profession Office lead for HP Services, I’ve spent a lot of “cycles” pondering this subject. It started when I realized that the most common question I was asked when I taught HP’s architecture methodology was some version of “What’s the difference between architecture and design?” I could only wave my hands and allude to “The difference between orange and red.” My students were not satisfied, and neither was I. My colleague Roberto Rivera describes his experience with this issue in “Am I doing architecture or design work?”.

My quest to answer this question has led me far and wide, far enough from the conventional wisdom that without my explaining the path to my conclusions, you’d likely write me off as a crackpot.

I eventually realized I was pursuing two sets of goals:

  • A1) Clearly differentiate “our kind ” of architecture from design; and
  • A2) By doing so, lay the foundations for a profession.
  • B1) Propose a taxonomy-driven vocabulary; and
  • B2) By doing so, make it possible to extend the idea of architecture more deeply into the “business” realm.
  • Next time, I’ll survey the diversity of opinion on what “our kind” of architecture is all about.

    Len Fehskens is The Open Group’s vice president and global professional lead for enterprise architecture. He has extensive experience in the IT industry, within both product engineering and professional services business units. Len most recently led the Worldwide Architecture Profession Office at Hewlett-Packard’s Services business unit, and has previously worked for Compaq, Digital Equipment Corporation (DEC), Prime Computer and Data General Corporation.