Archimate aims to be the standard notation for enterprise-architectures. But has it become too IT-centric to be usable for that purpose? And is there any way we can get it to break out of the IT-centric box?
These questions came up for me whilst exploring the architectural processes we could use in expanding a business-model developed in Business Model Canvas out into the detail needed for real-world implementation. Archimate should be the obvious standard to use in describing an overall architecture: but at present it’s not so much IT-oriented as almost entirely IT-centric, and a real-world business-model involves a lot more than just IT. Yet if the only available standard only describes the IT, what on earth can we use to describe everything else? And how can we link everything else back to the IT? Therein lies the problem.
Let’s step back a bit. More like a decade, actually.
Archimate started out as means to solve some real architectural problems for users of large IT-systems in the Netherlands. A consortium of academics, IT-consultancies, business-users and government was brought together, to address how to link all the different layers of the IT-domains together, from the business needs, down through the IT-applications and data, all the way to the actual IT-infrastructure that supported all of those needs. In other words, the usual IT-oriented layering that we see in TOGAF and so many other ‘enterprise’-architecture frameworks.
That kind of layering does make perfect sense if the focus of concern is IT, and if the business of the business revolves primarily around information. In other words, it fits well with IT-architectures for information-centric businesses such as banking, finance, insurance and tax – hence the reason why the usual Archimate ‘demonstrator’ is an imaginary insurance-company called ‘Archisurance’.
But this doesn’t make sense – or rather, is far too constrained and constraining – if the focus of concern is anything other than IT, or for any type of business whose business is not centred solely around information. Which latter, in reality, is the case for most businesses – if not all of them, once we start looking at the deeper detail of most business-models.
Which means that, for those of us involved in real enterprise-scope architecture, business-architecture, security-architecture, process-architecture, or any kind of architecture that touches just about anything other than IT, we have a problem here. A big problem.
A problem which in some ways is actually getting worse.
Which means it’s a problem that, collectively, we need to do something about, right now. Urgently.
Why do I say it’s getting worse? Well, take a look at this section from Chapter 2 of the original Archimate Primer [PDF], from back in 2004:
In the enterprise-architecture modelling language that we propose, the service concept plays a central role. A service is defined as a unit of functionality that some entity (e.g. a system, organisation or department) makes available to its environment, and which has some value for certain entities in the environment.
It’s clear that ‘service’ here is intended to be generic – not solely IT. And service-orientation is a certainly good place to start for whole-enterprise architectures.
The chapter-text continues with a brief summary of that all-too-common IT-oriented layering of ‘Business’, ‘Application’ and ‘Technology’. The accompanying diagram and text, though, do make it clear that there’s more to the context than IT alone, and that we do need to take the broader enterprise into account, beyond just the organisation itself:
The Business layer offers products and services to external customers, which are realised in the organisation by business processes performed by business actors. … On top of the Business layer, a separate Environment layer may be added, modelling the external customers that make use of the services of the organisation (although these may also be considered part of the Business layer).
So far, so good. It’s about services, and about the broader enterprise; it’s IT-oriented, but not IT-centric as such.
Yet somewhere, things started to go badly wrong, from an enterprise-architecture perspective.
Somewhen around 2008 or so, with the aim of making the still-somewhat-prototype standard more available worldwide, Archimate was transferred to the ownership and aegis of the Open Group. That move no doubt seemed sensible enough at the time: but the problem is that the Open Group is an IT-standards body, not an architecture body – and that built-in orientation towards IT starts to show even in the very first sentence of the Archimate version 1.0 formal standard, published in 2009:
An architecture is typically developed because key people have concerns that need to be addressed by the business and IT systems within the organization.
And by the time we reach the standard’s chapter on Enterprise Architecture, that all-too-common IT-centrism is in full flood:
The primary reason for developing an enterprise architecture is to support the business by providing the fundamental technology and process structure for an IT strategy. Further, it details the structure and relationships of the enterprise, its business models, the way an organization will work, and how and in what way information, information systems, and technology will support the organization’s business objectives and goals. This makes IT a responsive asset for a successful modern business strategy.
Today’s CEOs know that the effective management and exploitation of information through IT is the key to business success, and the indispensable means to achieving competitive advantage. An enterprise architecture addresses this need, by providing a strategic context for the evolution of the IT system in response to the constantly changing needs of the business environment.
You could just about get away with that kind of myopia in 2009, though even then its absurdity was beginning to be more widely recognised. Two years later, it’s probable that most members of Open Group would acknowledge that there are some serious limitations there, and many – such as Len Fehskens and Microsoft’s Mike Walker – are much more overt in asserting the need to break out of the IT-centric box.
In short, we need an Archimate for enterprise-architecture – not just IT-architecture. We need – and need urgently – an Archimate that isn’t all-but-uselessly IT-centric.
And yes, the good news is that a new version of the Archimate standard is due for release Real Soon Now. Hooray!
The bad news is that this new version isn’t likely to help much at all. If anything, it’s likely to make it worse…
I’m not a member of the Open Group or the Archimate forum, so I’m not directly involved in the update. But from what I hear from colleagues who are involved, the new version will be just as IT-centric as the old one. That text above apparently remains completely unchanged in the new standard: which means that its definition of ‘enterprise’-architecture is not so much out of date as just plain wrong. I’m told there are a couple of new sections to the metamodel: one is on motivation, to sort-of link it to the well-known Business Motivation Model; the other is about projects and dynamics, linking to and in some ways improving on the TOGAF 9 metamodel. I gather that there are a few new generic entities, such as Location, which would be not so much useful as essential. And Product, which used to be defined as “a coherent collection of services, accompanied by a contract/set of agreements, which is offered as a whole to (internal or external) customers”, is now apparently defined in even more rigidly IT-centric terms, as something like “a collection of financial or information services, with a contract that gives the customer the right to use the associated services”. Which doesn’t leave any space for descriptions of physical product or service, or relationship-oriented services – which is what most businesses actually deliver.
In other words, fine for the relatively small subset of enterprise-architecture that focusses around IT, but almost useless for anything else.
Which is not good news for enterprise-architecture.
So what can we do about it?
One option, I suppose, is to yell loudly at Open Group, and try to make it evident even to the most IT-obsessed of their big-consultancy members that this is nowhere near good enough. Sadly, I don’t think that’s going to work…
Another might be to ask the original Archimate group – Telematica Instituut and others – to retrieve the standard from Open Group, so that we actually have a chance to make it work again. Sadly, I don’t think that’s going to happen either.
Another option might be to use the Profiles facility in Archimate to define a much broader metamodel, particularly around the physical and relational analogues to the information-space that IT partially covers. That at least is doable – but the problem is that without a standards-body to coordinate all the various needed extensions, we’ll soon have no standard at all. Not a standard that we could for interchange, anyway, and not one that we could get the vendors to standardise on, to at last enable us to move architecture-models between the various vendors’ toolsets. Yet it doesn’t seem to be in Open Group’s interest that this essential work takes place, and at present there’s no-one else to take on that role.
Which at present, and for the foreseeable future, leaves us without a notation/exchange standard that we can use for enterprise-architecture. Again. After all these years. Sigh…
Over to you, folks: any ideas for anything that can get us out of this metamodel mess?