EA must adapt or die

Gartner believes enterprise architecture must respond to changing markets

August 12, 2009

Gartner believes enterprise architecture must respond to changing markets

Enterprise architects must adopt a new style of enterprise architecture (EA) to respond to the growing variety and complexity in markets according to Gartner.

Analysts advised companies to adopt ‘emergent architecture’, also known as middle-out EA and light EA, and set out definitions of the new approach.

“The first key characteristic of the emergent approach is best summarised as ‘architect the lines, not the boxes’, which means managing the connections between different parts of the business rather than the actual parts of the business themselves,” said Bruce Robertson, research vice president at Gartner. “The second key characteristic is that it models all relationships as interactions via some set of interfaces, which can be completely informal and manual – for example, sending handwritten invitations to a party via postal letters – to highly formal and automated, such as credit-card transactions across the Visa network.”

Gartner has identified seven properties that differentiate emergent architecture from the traditional approach to EA.

1. Non-deterministic – In the past, enterprise architects applied centralised decision-making to design outcomes. Using emergent architecture, they instead must decentralise decision-making to enable innovation.

2. Autonomous actors – Enterprise architects can no longer control all aspects of architecture as they once did. They must now recognise the broader business ecosystem and devolve control to constituents.

3. Rule-bound actors – Where in the past enterprise architects provided detailed design specifications for all aspects of the EA, they must now define a minimal set of rules and enable choice.

4. Goal-oriented actors – Previously, the only goals that mattered were the corporate goals but this has now shifted to each constituent acting in their own best interests.

5. Local Influences: Actors are influenced by local interactions and limited information. Feedback within their sphere of communication alters the behaviour of individuals. No individual actor has data about all of an emergent system. EA must increasingly coordinate.

6. Dynamic or Adaptive Systems: The system (the individual actors as well as the environment) changes over time. EA must design emergent systems sense and respond to changes in their environment.

7. Resource-Constrained Environment: An environment of abundance does not enable emergence; rather, the scarcity of resources drives emergence.