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N. Dean Meyer, a highly regarded IT organizational consultant, has observed that "the very purpose of architecture is to allow opportunistic, business-driven implementation efforts while still evolving toward an integrated product line. … Architecture is a set of standards, guidelines, and statements of direction that constrain the design of solutions for the purpose of eventual integration." 
In these few words, Meyer captures the essence of what the IT architecture process is all about and indicates its worth to the enterprise. For Meyer, an IT architecture is not an archive of past and present IT purchases; rather, it is an integrative process that influences purchasing decisions while driving the enterprise to a higher level of IT integration and enabled performance excellence. His recognition of the centrality of the architect's role is now being mirrored in the hiring practices of large and small IT organizations worldwide. I met Meyer early in my NEF years. His writing influenced my own thinking about the high-level process that came to define NEF's IT architecture management practices.
According to Meyer, at its core an IT architecture provides four primary sets of services. First, it offers a comprehensive, systematic consideration of the enterprise's current IT investments. Given that most IT organizations are notoriously lax when it comes to documenting their work, this is no mean task, involving the collection of detailed information about existing legacy systems, de facto corporate IT standards, and the history of IT systems and operations. Second, the IT architecture process provides a framework for the planning, evaluation, and coordination of an enterprise's future IT investments in that it articulates current and anticipated technology standards, as well as the overall direction of IT procurement. Indeed, if properly executed, the architecture will offer a clear and cogent picture of the enterprise's technology future. The ultimate objective of these efforts is the seamless integration of information technologies in support of the business.
Third, the architecture acts as a filter for the assessment of IT options. As new technologies emerge, the enterprise's IT leadership must be in a position to determine whether such events afford opportunities. Given the pace of change and innovation within the IT industry, this effort alone could consume all of IT management's energies. A comprehensive architecture model will assist the team in its triage of IT product and service announcements and in plotting a sensible course through myriad offerings. It also acts as a means to discipline applied research and otherwise whimsical exploratory forays into emerging information technologies.
Lastly, the IT architecture process establishes a platform for the identification of IT innovations that marry well with enterprise business requirements or that create whole new business opportunities. Here, the architecture process's contribution is highly proactive, allowing IT leaders to advocate for particular technology investments and business process changes. Thus, an IT architecture chronicles and manages the current state of the enterprise's technology and serves as the basis for the planning and integration of future initiatives. It provides a context and a framework for assessing the gyrations and offerings of the IT marketplace and even, in time, a platform for advocating change. To demonstrate these points, the author will now turn to a case study for the development of an IT architecture process at New England Financial. Although begun at NEF, this process has been adopted and adapted by NEF's parent company as one of the ways in which MetLife now manages its IT infrastructure.
N. Dean Meyer, Structural Cybernetics (Ridgefield, CT: N. Dean Meyer and Associates, 1995), 59–60, 65.
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