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Software can help you keep your architectural plans in sync—but not if your design processes aren't already effective.

Too often, definitions of business goals, business processes, and information and infrastructure architecture are locked up in a myriad of widely dispersed text files, and architectural plans are invariably defined in presentation slides that have been hastily thrown together in the last few minutes before architecture meetings.

But a growing number of off-the-shelf software packages, often called EA tools, have appeared in recent years to help with the architecture development process. According to analysts, these applications can help make sure the right steps are being followed in developing and maintaining up-to-date information about the enterprise. They can also manage a database, or repository, of components that describe IT resources—things such as servers and applications, which then become the "widgets" that feed the architectural plans. When it's time to provide information to the various stakeholders in the renovation effort, such software can automate the display of architectural models so that different constituents can understand what's in it for them.

But these applications are no panacea. Without the right deal between business users and IT on the table, such software can simply automate bad decisions, and fool all involved into believing they're on the right track for building great enterprise architecture. Also, these applications may not necessarily reflect the way your company views its enterprise architecture, so you may need to customize it to make it work for you.

Users say it's most important to use EA tools to build an IT database that includes the architectural components of the organization. This will allow IT the flexibility to redefine how those components are assembled when new business initiatives appear. "A lot of these tools have their place as repositories," says META's Buchanan. And the Army's Thomas, a user of Popkin Software's architecture modeling software, adds, "The architecture is really the database that underlies the tool."

But while such software has its uses, it can't yet make up for the relative immaturity of enterprise architecture as a discipline. "I think the technology that one uses to implement an architecture is mature," says AXA Financial's Buskard. "I don't think the practice of implementing architectures is mature." Yet he insists the effort is worth it. "You have to have a little bit of organizational and personal stamina to stick with the program," he says. "Once you have it there, the only time you get value out of it is when you continue to use it."

Ask Your Architects:

  • How can software help us manage our architecture processes better?

    Ask Your Enterprise Architect:

  • Could such an application help to weave together the plans from our various divisions?

    Ask Architecture Software Vendors:

  • How easily can your software be adapted to our unique requirements?

  • This article was originally published on 01-01-2004
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