As an Enterprise Architect, I’m first and foremost a problem solver.  I don’t like to ignore problems.  Yet, it appears that EA as a field has a problem and I’m finding it tough to ignore it.  What is the problem?  If you judge by the 1500+messages that have flooded the Enterprise Architecture Network on LinkedIn, Enterprise Architects cannot agree. 

How did I come to that impression?  Let’s look at the measures.  Across a handful of questions over the course of the past few months, there have been literally hundreds of responses.  Judging by the responses, we seem to have, as a group. different opinions about every facet of our profession.  We appear to disagree about mission statements, value propositions, metamodels, methodology, inputs, outputs, and the necessary levels of job experience needed to perform.

Certainly the impression is reasonable, but is it a reality. 

Yes and No.

There are a handful of “schools of thought” that emerge if you read and discuss.  The number of people in each school of thought varies, but there are some clear distinctions between them.  The biggest disagreements come from folks who are using the same words, but come from these different schools of thought.  

The following list is in alphabetical order.  Note that ALL of these folks have presented themselves as Enterprise Architects.

  • Alignment Architects – these folks are focused on interpreting strategy, making it actionable, and using it to scope and define business change initiatives.  Also referred to as Business Architects.
  • Application Architects – these folks are focused on implementing successful “enterprise applications” or “enterprise systems.”  Also referred to as Enterprise IT Architects (EITA)
  • Information Architects – these folks are focused on managing information assets at the enterprise level in a consistent way
  • Process Architects – these folks are focused on improving business processes or reorienting business processes to place the customer first.
  • Strategy Architects – these folks are focused on helping business leaders create new strategies, open new markets, develop new products, etc..


Just to make things interesting, the Zachman framework (ZF) is used by a subset of “alignment” architects as well as a subset of “application” architects.  So when you are discussing ZF, you aren’t even sure which perspective they are coming from.  It is just as easy to get two “alignment architects to disagree about the value of ZF as anything else. 

If you sort out the responses into groups on the basis of these different schools of thought, there is remarkable consistency among the answers.  That’s right: consistency.  People are saying similar things… sometimes even the same things… about the value, methods, and concepts of Enterprise Architecture.

Perhaps we need to split up the field into specialties, just as physicians have specialties, with some base training and a focus on a particular branch of medicine.  After all, an oncologist makes a reasonable diagnosis when you have a cold, as would an Emergency Room doctor, but in the event of a car accident, I’d take the ER doc any day, and in the event of cancer, I’m making a beeline to the oncologist. 

If we understand enough about an enterprise, and the problems that they want to solve, we can focus on a single specialty (and/or bring in the right specialist). 

Solve these problems

With these architects

We need new products.  We need to open up to new markets.  New opportunities have arisen.  New threats are recognized.  New competitive pressures are being felt. 

Strategy Architect

We need to be more agile.  We need to organize our business to deliver to our stated mission.  We need to get our strategies to be realized more quickly.  We need to cut waste.  We need to focus on what matters.  We need to implement new regulations.  We need to respond quickly to corporate mandates.

Alignment Architect

We need to implement more scalable technical solutions.  We need to integrate and/or replace complex areas of our line-of-business applications with packaged solutions.  We need to add process flexibility into our systems.  We need to consolidate business rules.

Solution or Application Architect

We need to make our processes more efficient and effective.  We need to reduce friction between business groups.  We need to minimize the cost of a business process, and remove waste. We need to refocus our processes on customer requirements and customer experience. 

Process Architect

We need to create a single version of the truth.  We need to reduce the amount of processing needed at each step of an information-based process.  We need to reduce the difficulty in producing consistent reporting.  We need to manage large amounts of information.  We need to improve the ability of business units to communicate through consistent information.

Information Architect


Perhaps if we begin to see that these folks are EACH needed, at different times, to solve different problems, we can spend much more time agreeing with one another.

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

One thought on “EA Schools of Thought”
  1. Kirk,

    Great post and I agree with what you have posted with a little twist.  The challenge with Enterprise Architects is that you must be able to move within each of the listed architectural domains: Innovation, Alignment, Efficiencies and Business Process.  Each of these domains is in constant flux as decisions are made and solutions delivered.  It’s the EA’s role to keep the plates spinning and make sure the business understands the constraints, opportunities and burdens of the undulating enterprise with a clear vision of the desired future state and identify and influence the business to that end goal.

    I do not believe it is an either or scenario but rather distinctively different roles/hats that an EA must be comfortable with and can move between them fluidly to be successful.

    EA is not just about innovation, alignment, efficiencies and business process because none of these domains exist in a vacuum.  It is about leveraging those domains to achieve the businesses goals.

    Just my two cents.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

2 × 5 =

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.