Enterprise Ontology – a framework for building and identifying corporate evidence


Role of an enterprise ontology

For an overview of this concept i am going to reference an article written by Dave McComb called The Enterprise Ontology. It offers a good description of an ontology, an Enterprise Ontology as well as some very good reasons as to why an organisation should build one. The article was written in 2006 and i will quote the first paragraph: At the time of this writing almost no enterprises in North America have a formal enterprise ontology.

Yet we believe that within a few years this will become one of the foundational pieces to most information system work within major enterprises.

We are now in 2011 and i am not aware of any publicised stories of any companies in the USA or Europe or the rest of the world for that matter that are able to say they have an enterprise ontology and that it is underpinning the information systems that exist within organisation.

Whilst it is expected that it will take an organisation some time to design, model and build an enterprise ontology the benefits will, if it is managed effectively, bring considerable change to people and value to the information created.

An enterprise ontology provides the enterprise indexing system to define meaning, classification and categorisation for past, current and future information. By providing this it aids evidence and evidence based enterprise architecture by creating a means to “frame” information by specific terms and definitions and thus aid like to like relationships.

If we consider evidence as either proofs or observations derived from a formal or scientific approach as well as opinions and expert statements created from renowned experience and capability; thus that evidence has to be

Enterprise Architecture value assurance


Why is value assurance important to Enterprise Architecture? Value assurance is a means to review plans, proposals, architectural designs and strategies to determine that value to the business will be delivered.

Like any assurance process it cannot guarantee value will be delivered but it can investigate and decide that the information is aligned to a framework or standard and that the evidence is sound and backs up the decisions, risk mitigation and actions. Value assurance should be independent in its approach and incorporate consultation and critical reviews of all proposals. The objectives of a value assurance review should be:

a) To provide external challenge to the architecture project team at each key decision stage; to help assess the validity and robustness of the work done and the key areas requiring focused attention; and to assist in achieving the value of the deliverable.

b) To assess the suitability of the plans and strategies to ensure a go ahead to operate within the context of the overall Enterprise Architecture.

c) To appraise the readiness and justification of the project to proceed into the next phase, including the project’s soundness for capital allocation.

d) To capture lessons learned for dissemination across EA teams and, where appropriate, facilitate best practice transfer into the maturation or project team.

Two important areas of value assurance are the compliance to the enterprise architecture framework and the validity of the evidence supplied. Checking compliance is relatively straight forward by ensuring the proposals are all based on the agreed template and process, checking evidence is a lot harder.

If an organisation has had a disciplined approach to information management (supported by an enterprise information management strategy ensuring all formal information is well classified, categorised and accessible) then an evidence relationship map should be straightforward. By evidence relationship map i mean the pedigree of references to past documentation pertaining to the current proposal.

For example, references to three similar projects implementing the same technologies or business decisions that have all proved value through their successes – delivered to schedule or cost, shown effective transformation and or growth through sales or customer satisfaction.

If an organisation has poorly managed their information assets then building up evidence to support decisions will be a lot harder. I suspect most organisations are a mix of these two scenarios and as Enterprise Architecture is relatively new, historic information assets aligned to the EA framework is unlikely. Value assurance and evidence management are two critical activities to support Enterprise Architecture maturity. If an organisation is not using evidence to support architectural decisions then it is running the risk of undermining the importance of its EA and its ability to deliver value in the future.