Time for open-source enterprise-architecture?

A theme which came up several times in the Troux Directions conference, and came up in several different ways, was the need for some means to share and exchange enterprise-architecture information between multiple organisations, so as to handle the reality that ‘enterprise’ is now very often broader than a single organisation.

The catch right now, of course, is that every vendor has their own proprietary file-format and metamodel. They’d each no doubt be very happy if their own format became ‘the exchange standard’, because that would de-facto enforce a single-vendor monopoly, in the same manner as Microsoft Word. But the multi-vendor environment is a reality: and that ain’t going to change – especially at the prices that the EA-toolset vendors charge for their products… But what could change the game is an open-source approach to the whole field: firstly for exchange-formats, and possibly for toolsets too. When vendors charge upwards of US$500,000 for a single complete suite of products, there has to be room for an EA equivalent of OpenOffice there somewhere…

I’ve summarised what I think are the overall requirements for such a toolset in my book Bridging the Silos: enterprise architecture for IT-architects – see page 14-15 (p.20-21 of the PDF file) in the current draft version on the Tetradian Books website. But to get all of that together will take a fair time, and the most urgent need right now is for some kind of exchange-format. A few places that seem to provide useful pointers:

  • IDEAS Group (International Defence Enterprise Architecture Specification) – okay, it’s military, but at least the site makes it clear that it’s not IT-centric
  • XPDL eXtensible Process Definition Language (Workflow Management Consortium) – process-specific, but could be extensible for enterprise architecture
  • OMG standards around MDA Model-Driven Architecture, such as XMI XML Metadata Exchange – sure, the MDA is still IT-centric at present, but OMG are putting a lot of effort right now into breaking it out of the IT-only box

The key to all of this, though, is going to be defining not just an extensible file-format but an extensible system-architecture that can be flexible enough to handle all of the present and future requirements for enterprise-architecture. Sounds like a big ask, I know, but should be doable as long as we keep the core ideas really simple, and focus on leaving the right hooks for extensibility.

Anyone else interested in this? If so, let’s set up a suitable forum on LinkedIn, perhaps, and continue the conversation there.

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