EA Failed Big Way! by Ivar Jacobson

Enterprise Architecture failed big way!

Around the world introducing an Enterprise Architecture EA has been an initiative for most financial institutions (banks, insurance companies, government, etc.) for the last five years or so, and it is not over. I have been working with such companies and helped some of them to avoid making the worst mistakes. Most EA initiatives failed. My guess is that more than 90% never really resulted in anything useful.


Why did people fail? There are many reasons, but they can all be summarized by the word smart. They were not smart when they selected solution. They were not smart when they selected way of working. They were not smart when they organized their business and IT resources. Building an EA is not rocket science. 

There are two common reasons specific to EA failure:

  1. Focus on paper-ware instead of executable software.  When enterprise architects work in an ivory tower without caring about what can be implemented, they produce too much models and documentation without executable solutions.  Enterprise architectures should be implemented incrementally, starting as early as possible. We call such architectures for executable EAs. 
  2. Big gaps between layers instead of seamless relationships.  Usually there are several layers such as a business layer, an application layer, a data layer and a technical layer. There are huge gaps between these layers which results in very brittle architectures. It is like trying to stand on a skateboard which is on top of another skateboard which in its turn is on top of yet another skateboard, etc. To have a chance these skateboards need to behave like one which is hard enough.  Thus the relationship between the business layer end the application and data layers are not straightforward and the relationships between the application layer and the data layer is as hard to manage as it was 20-30 years when we used methods like functional decomposition, or structured analysis and design. It is amazing that people haven’t learnt anything from component based development (with or without objects).

There are many other mistakes that people have made, many of which are related to organizational change in general. Examples include lack of business support for EA, not communicating the scope and purpose of EA, no strong IT leadership etc. In addition to these common challenges, all it takes to succeed at EA is to use best practices for modern software development, avoid upfront academic modeling, build both top down and bottom up, look upon the whole enterprise system as a system of interconnected systems.

Many of the companies that failed are now looking for the next silver bullet – Service Oriented Architecture SOA. To me SOA is what EA should have become. SOA can be described as EA++ -- it is Enterprise Architecture made better. SOA is clearly on the right path, but again adopting it requires that you work smart!  

  1. Philippe Back | April 8, 2008 at 6:58 pm Reply


    I happen to like the term “middle out” instead of bottom-up, top to bottom. Indeed, most of the people cannot think in high level terms or abstract terms. Most of the audience is also not too knowledgeable in the low level details. In my practice, I find that using middle out allows all parties to be able to connect together well. Basically, the middle level is more or less at the granularity of a logical component. It helps tremendously when coupled with the responsibility-driven approaches.

  2. Ivar | March 29, 2008 at 2:43 pm Reply


    You can see my blogs under the categories Architecture and SOA.

  3. Hong S. Kim | March 14, 2008 at 7:24 am Reply


    Where could I find your talks on EA ? Where is your columns on SOA ? Thanks in advance!!!

  4. Ivar | March 9, 2008 at 6:05 pm Reply


    Yes, I have given several talks on EA, in particular one on XEA = Executable EA. I have alsoe said that SOA is somewhat simplified = EA++. Suggest that you read my columns on SOA.

  5. Hong S. Kim | March 9, 2008 at 4:07 am Reply


    I almost agree with your opinion for he EA matter. Is there more for EA ?