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Recordkeeping In Brief 59 - An introduction to enterprise architecture for records managers

Overview: This Recordkeeping in Brief provides an introduction to enterprise architecture and explains its relationship with records management.

What is enterprise architecture?

Enterprise architecture originated as an information technology (IT) discipline. Initially it focussed on promoting the strategic development of an organisation’s IT systems by modelling the organisation and by aligning IT purchasing and development with business priorities. A key benefit of this form of enterprise architecture is that it allows organisations to develop coherent systems that are built from sets of smaller, interdependent services (that might include legacy, commercial and open source components). This frees organisations from dependence on single providers, and allows the creation of modular, more cost-effective and more flexible systems.

In recent years the scope of enterprise architecture has expanded beyond the IT domain and enterprise architects are increasingly taking on broader roles relating to organisational strategy and change management. Gartner’s definition of enterprise architecture reflects this shift:

Enterprise architecture is the process of translating business vision and strategy into effective enterprise change by creating, communicating and improving the key requirements, principles and models that describe the enterprise’s future state and enable its evolution.1

This more holistic form of enterprise architecture operates across all ‘layers’ of the organisation, connecting business goals with the organisational data, applications and technology that facilitate them.

Enterprise architecture layers

Image: Niles E. Hewlett2

Enterprise architecture frameworks
When developing architectures for organisations, enterprise architects often refer to generic frameworks such as The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF). Enterprise architecture frameworks provide generic, high level models on which practitioners can base their customised architectures.
Some governments have developed their own enterprise architecture frameworks in the pursuit of whole of government enterprise architectures (the application of enterprise architecture across government e.g. to promote sharing of information and technology between government agencies). The Australian Government Architecture framework released by the Australian Government Information Management Office (AGIMO) applies to Commonwealth agencies.3

Enterprise information architecture
Enterprise information architecture (sometimes just ‘information architecture’4) is a sub-discipline of enterprise architecture. Its primary focus is organisations’ capacity to share information within the enterprise. Other aims include mapping information assets and identifying authoritative sources of information. According to Gartner, an enterprise information architect seeks to achieve these goals by promoting consistency in ‘standard identifiers, formats and protocols’.5

Opportunities for records managers

Records managers and enterprise architects both have much to gain by working together.

For their part, records managers can contribute at both the ‘business’ and ‘data’ layers of enterprise architecture.

The process of designing a recordkeeping system (for example by following the DIRKS methodology6) is in many respects similar to developing an enterprise architecture, particularly in the analysis of an organisation’s business activities. A functional analysis undertaken for recordkeeping purposes should closely match the business layer of an enterprise architecture. Business classification schemes can therefore be very useful resources to share. For example, AGIMO based the Business Reference Model in the Australian Government Architecture framework almost entirely on the Australian Governments’ Interactive Functions Thesaurus developed by the National Archives of Australia.7

Records managers can also share their knowledge of their organisation’s information assets. Many of the products of a recordkeeping program (taxonomies, retention and disposal authorities, records control systems, lists of vital records, and an understanding of business and regulatory requirements relating to recordkeeping) will have value for enterprise architects grappling with the data layer of their architectures.

On the other side of the coin, by working with enterprise architects, records managers can improve the visibility of their programs, can receive assistance in strategic tasks such as the development of business cases, and, most importantly, can ensure that records management requirements are embedded within their organisation’s enterprise architecture.

Improving records management capabilities of business systems

Embedding records management requirements into enterprise architectures can ensure that those requirements are taken into account whenever decisions are made regarding the design or purchase of new business systems.

For example, the United States Internal Revenue Service (IRS) developed a records management component for its enterprise architecture which characterised records as organisational assets and records management as a business requirement. The effect of this was that whenever new IT systems were considered by the IRS, records management requirements such as the creation, maintenance, use and disposal of records were routinely factored in.8

Improving organisations’ records management capacity

The inclusion of records management requirements in enterprise architectures may result in more than just improved business systems. Many organisations use enterprise architecture as a strategic tool to direct the course of organisational change. This kind of enterprise architecture involves modelling not just how an organisation looks today but also how it could look in the future. Linking records management goals to that vision of an organisation’s future state may be an effective way to promote the strategic development of the organisation’s records management capacity.

When records management projects are planned and business cases are developed at Corrective Services NSW, enterprise architecture serves as the foundation. They have found that an enterprise architecture approach keeps everything in sync despite a changing business environment and an evolving technology landscape. Enterprise architecture articulates the links between business services and processes, the information that informs and documents business, and the enabling applications and technology. Fundamentally, it ensures that at Corrective Services NSW all information, communication and technology assets are aligned with and support corporate objectives.

Where to start?

Does your agency employ enterprise or information architects?

If so, arrange a meeting and build a relationship with them. Discuss what you can contribute to their program. Outline your requirements.

Does your agency have an enterprise architecture?

Check to see what records management requirements are already included. Evaluate it against the Standard on digital recordkeeping. Identify and address requirements that are missing. State Records’ Checklist for assessing business systems (Recordkeeping in Brief 42) is a useful tool for assessing enterprise architectures.

Further resources

References

  1. Philip Allega, ‘Defining EA: Low Barriers to Entry (My Mother has an EA Definition, too)’, Gartner, 2010. Available at http://blogs.gartner.com/philip-allega/2010/08/11/defining-ea-low-barriers-to-entry-my-mother-has-an-ea-definition-too/
  2. Niles E. Hewlett, The USDA Enterprise Architecture Program, January 25 2006, http://www.ocio.usda.gov/p_mgnt/doc/PM_Class_EA_NEH_012506_Final.ppt
  3. Australian Government Architecture Reference Models Version 2.0, Australian Government Information Management Office, December 2009. Available at http://www.finance.gov.au/e-government/strategy-and-governance/aga-rm/AGA-RM.html
  4. ‘Information architecture’ is often used in a narrower sense to refer to the organisation of information presented on websites. For this reason, the term ‘enterprise information architecture’ is used in this advice.
  5. Betsy Burton and Philip Allega, Hype Cycle for Enterprise Architecture, 2010, Gartner, 2010.
  6. Strategies for Documenting Government Business: The DIRKS Manual. Available at http://www.records.nsw.gov.au/recordkeeping/dirks-manual
  7. Australian Governments' Interactive Functions Thesaurus, National Archives of Australia. Available at http://www.naa.gov.au/records-management/create-capture-describe/describe/agift/index.aspx
  8. Joab Jackson, ‘Records Managers See Value of Enterprise Architecture’, Federal Computer Week, March 2008. Available at http://fcw.com/Articles/2008/03/07/Records-managers-see-value-of-enterprise-architecture.aspx