For years, we’ve been living with Zachmann and now TOGAF as commercially available EA frameworks, but honestly, they don’t address the problems faced by large organziations with respect to complexity.

The Federal Enterprise Architecture does.  That’s because of a few things that the Federal Government has that we (in the commercial sector) don’t:

1) Scale.  The US Federal Government is a model for a very large and distributed organization.  Different agencies have completely different reasons to exist.  They are like independent businesses.  That size and mission has the same effect on their computing infrastructure as you’d expect for a corporation: lots of duplication, incompatible data models, and a mess of integration challenges.  They face the worst, so any model that works there can be pared down to work anywhere else.

2) Stability of Vision.  Face it, most organizations, when trying to develop their Enterprise Architectures, gave up way too soon to see benefits.  The US Federal Government doesn’t operate the same way.  While businesses think about the next quarter and the next year, Congress thinks about the next decade and the next century.  In order to provide consistency over long periods, legislation is a good tool.  Corporations DON’T WRITE DOWN things akin to legislation, and as a result, there is no consistent reason to keep doing things that will help in five years, but won’t help now.  As a result, the feds have a consistency of vision that is enviable in the field of Enterprise Architecture.

3) Public openness.  We paid for it.  We own it.  There is no reason, nor rationale, to create the FEA behind a closed door.  And therefore, we can all learn from it, and use it, and adapt it.  It’s the ultimate Open Source Enterprise Architecture.

To be honest, we needed someone with that long view to start, run, and keep running.  The Office of Management and Budget is that someone, and their Federal Enterprise Architecture is a very good Version 2.0 of what Enterprise Architecture should look like.  It took 12 years to get to this point.  Perhaps a commercial organization would have gotten here quicker… if they could stick to something for more than a year at a time. 

I think it is time to translate the FEA to the commercial sector, make it fit within current management models for commercial space, and knock off Zachmann once and for all.  ZF was a great start, but it doesn’t work for what we need it to do: control complexity.  The FEA does. 

Judge for yourself.  Look, with open minds, at the FEA.


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".

3 thoughts on “Is it time to bring the FEA concepts to the commercial space?”
  1. FEA has a good reason to follow for both of the public and private sector. But the problem is that it is very difficult to guide the every enterprise to catch up the Federal Reference Model because lack of easy and practical solutions for this earea. Therefore, it wolud be going to take some time for the FRM to be prsctical enough. I think we may find out the very practical "how to get to the FEA" with reasonable efforts. Thanks!  

  2. The reality is that the content of the FEA is less important for the commercial sector than the mechanism and overall metamodel.  The fact that the layers are organized in the manner that they are, and the types of information in those layers: that is readily attainable and in fact, would greatly accelerate the creating of commercial enterprise architecture.

    The FEA is a great EA reference model… better than Zachmann, IMHO.

  3. Hi Nick,

    I think you hit the nail on the head when you say that a commercial organisation never thinks over a long enough period of time to produce something akin to FEA.  

    The current economic pressures on even the largest of companies mean that taking a long term approach to EA can never be a reality without a huge leap of faith.  Trying to get corporate buy-in for EA is difficult.   Trying to get business to pay for a long term project with no measurable benefits is next to impossible, and rightly so.  

    When I worked in the cash rich Oil & Gas industry I always had to show why I should get IT project budget over and above new pumps, compressors or plant modifications which would reduce bottlenecks, smooth production and make money.  Everything had to be related to maximising profitability over as short a period of time as possible.

    Governments have different priorities and responsibilities to those of a business, as expressed so clearly by the development of FEA and DoDAF.

    I’ve recently posted an article “Understanding Enterprise Architecture complexity” comparing Zachman, TOGAF and DoDAF to OBASHI, an approach which we developed from techniques used by Oil and Gas engineers which does provide quick paybacks early in its implementation.  

    See , your thoughts about this approach are very welcome.

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