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Enterprise architecture is for entrepreneurs, too

Small companies need enterprise architecture; they can't afford to throw money away on failed systems
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Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

Mike Kavis asks an intriguing question: "Is enterprise architecture only for big companies?"

Small companies can't afford to throw money away on the wrong systems

One's first thought would be yes -- it would seem that a larger organization would have a greater need for EA, since there are likely to be many systems, applications, and user groups to contend with, all under one roof. A small company, on the other hand, may be more homogeneous, with only one ERP system, one type of database, one platform, and so on. Plus, a large organization has lots of time and resources -- including human resources -- that can be devoted to EA planning and governance activities.

EA may be even more critical to small and medium-size companies than their larger counterparts. But there is a misconception that only big companies need EA. Mike reports that he is part of a startup with fewer than 20 employees, and yes, they are talking EA. He says Brenda Michelsen captured the misconceptions about EA perfectly in a within-140-character tweet: "Many equate EA w/jumbo frameworks & rigid governance, rather than set of values & practices for capability delivery."

So, forget the heavy-handed frameworks, and look at what EA is really about:

"Enterprise Architecture is a complete expression of the enterprise; a master plan which 'acts as a collaboration force' between aspects of business planning such as goals, visions, strategies and governance principles; aspects of business operations such as business terms, organization structures, processes and data; aspects of automation such as information systems and databases; and the enabling technological infrastructure of the business such as computers, operating systems and networks (source: IFEAD – Institute for Enterprise Architecture Developments)"

There's nothing in this definition that specifies large organizations. If anything, smaller companies may need a master plan to guide ongoing technology projects more than a large organization that can afford to waste money on shelfware or underutilized systems.

Mike observes that EA is effective at helping a small, entrepreneurial organization meet goals that may include business architecture, business roadmaps, and portfolio management that prioritizes what gets worked on and when.

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