An Interview with John Zachman

In January 2015, the Open Group published an interview giving A Historical Look at Enterprise Architecture with John Zachman.

It includes a fascinating account about how John got involved in enterprise architecture in the first place, and how he came to develop what is now known as the Zachman Framework.

Importantly – although his work is still referred to as a “framework” – John emphasizes that what he has produced is really an ontology or schema for enterprise architecture. It is not a methodology or process: as Zachman says, it doesn’t tell you how to do enterprise architecture.

But equally important, it is not a framework! Not in the sense that “framework” is used as a practical technique or tool in EA. Because an EA framework should be something practical and useful; it should help you and tell you how to do enterprise architecture.

In this article, Zachman says “he lived to regret initially calling his framework “A Framework for Information Systems Architecture,” instead of “Enterprise Architecture” because the framework actually has nothing to do with information systems”.

Information Systems Architecture is indeed not the right phrase to describe our discipline. In some ways, even Enterprise Architecture falls short of the mark – and this becomes more and more apparent as significant parts of the “enterprise” architecture are developed outside the boundaries of a specific organization. Increasingly we have social architectures and environmental architectures.

Maybe the distinction that needs to be made is between “hard” architectures that deal with more tangible and physical components – such as buildings and computer hardware; and “soft” architectures that deal with less tangible components, like business processes, software, events, or rules. The approach and techniques for dealing with soft components is what we are talking about when we say “enterprise” architecture.

So it may have been a mistake to call it Information Systems Architecture, but it might also have been a mistake to label it Enterprise Architecture. And again in hindsight, it would be better to call Zachman’s legacy the Zachman Ontology (or Schema), which would save us from the confusion caused by labelling it as a “framework”.