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Architecture part I: ‘high level architecture’

persoonlijkGeplaatst door Mary Beijleveld vr, april 22, 2011 11:31:54

(First entry July 21, 2008)

Do we need architecture?

In experience, there is always much discussion about the usefulness or need for architecture in organizations. And, even when people agree having architecture is useful, discussions go on about whether to have enterprise architecture (EA) or reference architecture (RA). EA is often defined as a slender framework containing strategic models. RA is considered a big framework with much more details and constraints and therefore much less receptive to change.

Apart from the discussion about the usefulness of architecture in general, there is a lot of debate about a so-called project start architecture (PSA). That’s why I think it’s important to get clear understanding what architecture is, and why you would want one for your organization.

In my opinion we can agree upon later what name to give several architectures.

In this first blog I will explain about architecture and architects in general. In the second blog I’ll go “Back to the digital world” I will explain something about projects, change & Enterprise Architecture.
Another blog is about whether architecture can be agile or not. (SOAgile)

Later I will discuss the usefulness and need for an Project Start Architecture (PSA)

Architect and architecture in general

The term ‘architect’ has a very long history. It descends from the Sanskrit words arh and takshati which respectively mean ‘merit able’ and ‘he that forms or constructs’. From these words stems the Greek terms `archi’ and `tekton’ meaning ‘head’ and ‘craftsman, professional or artist’.

So the architect is someone who understands the art to form and construct, to make architecture. He first starts drawing a mental model of reality in his mind. Then a physical model (a picture drawn on paper) is made to represent the desirable reality. Next, construction principles and conditions are added. Then designers use these frameworks to make more detailed designs. All this to have a ‘blueprint’, so builders and other construction workers (e.g. bricklayers, carpenters and plumbers m/f) effectively can do their jobs and realize the architecture in reality.
Of course these architect and craftsman are from the physical world.

We can, however, compare the digital world of architecture with the physical world of architecture.
Let’s create an analogy to city engineering architecture, the architecture of specific town districts, the architecture of the individual buildings, the interior design & the associated design of furniture and equipment and the infrastructure in regard to roads and public utilities.

Enterprise architectures

We have enterprise or reference architecture at organization level concerning the enterprise. These include the whole companies architecture divided in, let us say, domains. You can compare this with the city planning of a town district. At this level of architecture you must be able to see the high level picture. The enterprise processes and their relation to customers and other interested parties (stakeholders).

Information architecture

The Information architecture compares with the design of the buildings. To be able to realize the ‘architectural domains’ you need high level principles, rules and directives that are useful in the domains. You can compare application architecture with interior design.

Technical architecture
(Technical) infrastructure architecture connects the whole with the choice for software and hardware. To put it in other words; the latter compares with roads, plumbing, sewerage, telephone wiring, lifts and staircases etc.

The physical architecture levels compared to the digital architecture levels look like this:

Physical Architecture

Digital Architecture

City planning

Enterprise architecture

Town districts

Business architecture


Information architecture

Interior decorating

Application architecture

Roads, sewerage, wiring

Technical architecture

Let’s keep following the analogy.


An organization strategy formulates the reason of existence of an organization. Her mission and vision could be seen as the start/ basis for the city plan which contains the steps to realization of the residential area. To build the houses, the bicycle paths, shopping center, public utilities, bus stops, the medical center we are very eager to use the expertise of architects.

Architecture as profession
These professional folks make the destination plan alive at high level, devising the vision into pictures and images. These images come to life in arranged photographs, sketches and construction models. The architects know about the construction rules and other dependencies that have to be taken in to account when the wishes of the occupants and visitors of the town districts must come to life.

Architecture as an instrument

Architecture can be an instrument to secure consistency of plans, to help respect the relevant construction principles and give some grip to all contractors and subcontractors who must execute and implement the detailed designs to make a working whole. Architects know the relations between (plans concerning) residential areas as they have an overview of the complete town destination plan.

A good city plan ensures that eventually everyone knows, what must come where and in coherence to each other.

This is not only because we want to prevent that the bus lane runs between consultation room nr. 4 and 5 in the medical center. We also want to be sure that no drinking water comes from the electricity cable. Or, when the one occupant impregnates the toilet some other occupants lights goes out. Or nastier, when cooking gas comes from the electrical power outlet when you put in the plug.

It’s just an analogy
As any other analogy, the comparison is for making things easier to understand. There is of course a major difference between ‘building’ architecture and software (system) architecture: A lot of decisions made in construction are hard to change.

It is very difficult to go back and change your basement, although it is possible. Software is not limited by physics; buildings are. Change to software is limited by imagination, by design, by organizational bias, by choice.

As mentioned I will discuss this concept of agility and architecture in another blog.

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