Enterprise architects need to be 'doctors,' not 'x-ray techs,' says legendary EA advocate

In a recent interview, John Zachman said: 'If we as enterprise architects are not doing diagnosis and prescription, then we're the technicians; we're just taking x-rays.'
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer
Enterprise architects should stop operating as if they are x-ray technicians, and more as doctors -- diagnosing and prescribing solutions for enterprise problems, versus building models that only serve as temporal snapshots of the situation.
Photo: Joe McKendrick

That's the word from John A. Zachman, creator of the highly regarded Zachman Framework, in a series of interviews posted at the site of iCMG, an EA services firm. In a fascinating and provocative discussion with Sunil Dutt Jha,CEO of iCMG, Zachman compared enterprise architecture to medicine. Too many of today's EAs are not taking on the roles of doctors as they should be, he opined.

"The doctor does the diagnosis, and then the doctor prescribes the solution, the prescription," he said. "Then you apply the prescription, then you see if it fixed the problem or not. So if the doctor is only ordering an x-ray by the x-ray technician, which is basically a model of your body, it doesn't do anything."

The fundamental problem in the enterprise community, Zachman said, is "nobody is doing the diagnosis, they're just taking x-rays. If people think that enterprise architecture is a practice of building models, that's like taking x-rays. What the enterprise architect ought to be doing is reading the models, figuring out what the problem is, then prescribing three, or five, or 20 possible solutions. If we as enterprise architects are not doing diagnosis and prescription, then we're the technicians. We're building models, we're just taking x-rays, we're taking snapshots."

The Zachman Framework lays the foundation for enterprise architecture, providing a series of classifications based on "What, Where, When, Why, Who and How," cross-indexed by organizational perspectives, including "Executive, Business management, Architect, Engineer, Technician, and Enterprise" perspectives. In the interview, Zachman pointed out that the framework is comparable to the periodic table of elements, which are a series of immutable elements (or "primitives") from which an infinite amount of composites can be created.

"There is one periodic table," he said. "There are n different compounds. "I happened to stumble across the periodic table for enterprises."

The laws dictated by the framework for enterprise architecture are the same as for any other form of architecture, Zachman emphasized. "I did not invent this framework," he said. "How, when, who, what and why has been around for 7,000 years. All I did is see the pattern. I put enterprise names on the same artifacts that are relevant for describing any object, whether it's an airplane, a building, a locomotive, or whatever it is."

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