For many decades companies have been using IT systems to run their businesses efficiently. The larger a company is, the more IT systems are usually in place (this is not always true, but with a large likelihood).
Large conglomerates with various business units have (at latest after some reorganizations or Mergers&Acquisitions) usually a variety of different, redundant IT systems in place, whereas certain business processes may not be supported by IT systems at all. In addition IT systems are often connected via interfaces. This causes dependencies, which need to be considered to e.g. ensure adequate IT security and compliance of the IT landscape – particularly with regard to the GAAP relevant IT systems.
IT Architecture aims at providing guidance and transparency for the management and further development of a company’s IT Landscape.
The first core element of an IT Architecture is the IT Landscape Plan, which ideally consists out of a two dimensional map (example see below) with:
1. Organizational dimension
2. Business Process dimension
IT Landscape Plan shows gaps, redundancies and dependencies within the as-is IT Landscape and provides the necessary basis for decisions how to operate, maintain and further develop the IT Landscape.
The second core element of an IT Architecture are detailed descriptions of the IT systems itself comprising relevant information such as:
- Business and Application Owner of the IT system
- Purpose of the IT system
- Organizational Units and Business Process supported by the IT system
- Release of the IT Application(s) which runs on the IT system
- Operating System of the underlying Server
- Cost (one time, ongoing)
- Is the IT system GAAP relevant or not?
As usual in the Information Technology branch many high sophisticated definitions for IT Architecture exist. In my plain words an IT Architecture is simply a structure and definition of the company’s IT Landscape.
Experience shows that it is a smart approach to set up the IT Architecture based on so called „Architecture Building Blocks (ABBs)“. These ABBs are (like LEGO bricks) reusable packages of functionality defined to meet the business needs across an organization. Examples could be „Engineering“ or „Customer Service“. ABBs have defined boundaries and interfaces and may interoperate with other, interdependent, building blocks. One major advantage of this ABB approach is, that you are able to act independently from the Process Management model of your company.
Besides the description of the as-is IT Landscape, the third core element of an IT Architecture usually is the Definition of the target picture for the company’s future process and IT Landscape including IT Infrastructure (e.g. Workplaces, Data Centers, and Networks), IT Applications (e.g. for Engineering or Production), Enterprise Mobility, and Information Security.
This information can be assembled and provided e.g. in form of a „Book of Standards (BoS)“, which should be released together with the Enterprise Target IT Architecture as binding guideline for the company.
A nice little YouTube video, which illustrates the benefit of an Enterprise IT Architecture can be found here:
I highly recommend utilizing standard IT Architecture Frameworks such as TOGAF (http://www.opengroup.org/subjectareas/enterprise/togaf) provided by the Open Group (http://www.opengroup.org) to avoid reinventing the wheel.