Agile Enterprise Solution Architecture

By Sean (Chunhong) Gu, Chief Executive Architect at VCG

Enterprise Architecture (EA) as an enterprise planning framework has its place and merits, yet it often falls short of real-world IT expectations. The traditional EA approach defines the to-be state architecture that may exist for a while but does not last long. In most cases, an enterprise architect starts from existing architecture and makes improvements. Such improvements are constantly needed as complex systems EA guides and expects are subject to constant changes. In practice, an enterprise architect is either engaged in strategic planning (including business modeling) or solution-oriented architecture. Most of the routine work of enterprise architects, in fact, involves crafting application or technical architecture. Therefore, what really matters in the IT world is an Enterprise Solution Architecture (ESA) that inter-mingles EA with Solution Architecture (SA) and provides holistic yet pragmatic modeling to enterprise information systems, along with an incremental and iterative approach for agility.

Agile Enterprise Solution Architecture mainly covers five areas: 1) enterprise capability (enterprise-wide organizational considerations of strategic planning, business context, and relevancy), 2) requirement/case scenario (business process and functionality required for enterprise IT systems), 3) architecture overview (including traceable business measurements, architecture patterns, and architectural metrics such as principle, risk, architecture decision, etc.), 4) IT functional service (relationship/interaction, granularity, etc.), and 5) IT infrastructure (operational aspect).

Within this architecture, all high-level statements (business initiative, process, and the like) need to be clearly mapped into ESA elements before they can become part of the architecture. Importantly, the IT service serves as a liaison between the enterprise blueprint and solution architecture. Its focus is on different levels of service interaction, service offer, and service system. At the functional level, for example, IT services can be categorized as interaction service, application logic service, data service and technical service.

Agile ESA helps clarify enterprise-level issues and key stakeholders’ major concerns (or the architecturally significant concerns) by forming critical architectural thinking blocks, especially those in between enterprise strategies and capabilities, business domains and applications, and applications and technologies. For this purpose, it:

  • Maps inputs from all stakeholders including implicit requirements or objectives
  • Introduces key architectural metrics to reach realistic architecture decisions
  • Employs techniques for service abstraction, service interface, and service realization
  • Incorporates an analysis process for architectural modeling assurance and governance
  • Advocates just enough architecture and significant architecture of value streams
  • Instills T-shaped IT expertise via a modeling framework to balance the enterprise capabilities and IT service modeling at the right level of abstraction and correlate between different architectural aspects (business and IT, application and technical, functional and operational, logical and physical)

As a modeling framework, Agile Enterprise Solution Architecture targets the following objectives:

  1. Simplified: Eliminate unnecessary complexities in a traditional enterprise architecture, and simplify various architectures into a core model for easy learning and wider adoption
  2. Panoramic: Take a holistic approach to trace back and forth key architectural elements (business, technical, and alike), and make enterprise architecture readily applicable and pragmatic
  3. IT Service-oriented: Focus on enterprise capabilities and IT services (the primary elements), strike a proper balance between enterprise architecture’s strict definitions and solution architecture’s granular details, resulting in IT service architecture delivery (rather than traditional roadmap, business entity, product, or component)
  4. Adaptable: Apply to various architectural styles (enterprise or solution, emergent or intentional, cloud-native or monolithic, software or system-scale, business or application) for ready customization and extension, and architect for changes to meet enterprise growth

Sean (Chunhong) Gu is a current certified Open Group Distinguished Architect with broad industry experience in international business, manufacturing, healthcare, and retail. Over the past 25 years, he has led a multitude of large-scale enterprise solution projects both in the USA and China, and has recently been focusing on IT strategic planning and enterprise solution architecture training.

As part of the IT Architect Certification Board and a chief IT Architect instructor at IBM GCG, he has facilitated thousands of architects and technical leaders in China, the Asia-Pacific, the USA and Europe, and has mentored top-level executive architects for their career advancement.