Enterprise Engineering, based on Architecture and Ontology

In a lot of enterprises IT is blamed for the lack of business-IT alignment, but why? Isn’t IT just a tool to reach the enterprise goals? If we buy a bike to improve our traveling, can we blame it for non-functioning if we just walk next to it? IT should function as part of an Enterprise Architecture, it should be an integral part of the enterprise strategy. The emerging field of Enterprise Engineering takes care of the integral design of an enterprise, but what exactly is Enterprise Engineering and where does it come from?

Why Enterprise Engineering?

The successful implementation of strategic initiatives in Enterprises is very difficult. According to Hoogervorst [Hoogervorst, 2007] numerous studies show that less than ten percent of strategic initiatives are implemented successfully. Hoogervorst also refers to a lot of studies showing that a lack of coherence and integration is the most important reason for this high failure rate. All elements (resources, business and organization) should be aligned with one another for making a great corporate strategy. The failing introduction of IT has also a lot to do with this lack of coherence and integration.

According to Hoogervorst (based on several studies), the power to do a coherent implementation of strategic choices is more important than the quality of these strategic choices itself. So an integral design of the enterprise is essential for being successful [Hoogervorst, 2007]. In this way competences for realising an integral design are even more important than competences for formulating corporate strategy!

Problems in enterprises are often addressed with use of black box thinking based knowledge, i.e., knowledge concerning the function and the behaviour of enterprises. Such knowledge is totally inadequate for changing an enterprise to meet its goals. For these purposes white-box based knowledge is needed, i.e., knowledge concerning the construction and the operation of enterprises. According to Dietz and Hoogervorst [Dietz, 2007] developing and applying such knowledge requires no less than a paradigm shift in our thinking about enterprises, since the traditional organizational sciences are not able to ensure that enterprises are coherently and consistently integrated wholes. They call for a new point of view: "The needed new point of view is that enterprises are purposefully designed, engineered, and implemented systems. The needed new skill is to (re) design, (re) engineer, and (re) implement an enterprise in a comprehensive, coherent and consistent way (such that it operates as an integrated whole), and to be able to do this whenever it is needed." [Dietz, 2007].

Roots of Enterprise Engineering

Enterprise Engineering is a new field, emerging from Information Systems Engineering and the Organizational sciences. This development is shown in Figure 1.

Roots of Enterprise Engineering

Figure 1- The roots of Enterprise Engineering [Dietz, 2007]

From top to bottom the evolution of thinking within the field of Computer Science is shown. It consists of two parts. The first revolution, around the 1970’s, was the recognition of the difference between form and content. Date Systems Engineering became Information Systems engineering.

At the moment the second evolution / revolution is going on. It consist of recognizing two different parts in communication: proposition and intention. Proposition can be seen as content while intention express the relation between the communicator (by example, the speaker) and the proposition. Examples of intention are requesting, promising, stating and accepting. Like the content of communication was put on top of its form in the 1970’s, the intention of communication is now put on top of its content. It explains and clarifies the organizational notions of collaboration and cooperation, as well as notions like authority and responsibility. For a more comprehensive explanation of the concept of intention I’d like to recommend the book ‘Enterprise Ontology’ [Dietz, 2006].

This current revolution in the information systems sciences marks the transition from the era of information systems engineering to the era of enterprise engineering. However, Enterprise Engineering is closely related to organizations, so it focuses on a socio-technical system. Therefore it adopts also knowledge of the organizational sciences. Enterprise Engineering is about engineering enterprises in the sense of focusing on the construction, the white-box view, of enterprises. It doesn’t forget that an enterprise is a system also consisting of people.

The core notions of Enterprise Engineering

As said before, the basic condition of Enterprise Engineering is that an enterprise is designed and engineered coherently and consistently. To make that happen two core notions are needed: ontology and architecture.

The ontology of a system is theoretically defined as the understanding of its construction and operation in a fully implementation independent way. Practically, it is the highest-level constructional model of a system, the implementation model being the lowest one. Compared to its implementation model, the ontological model of an enterprise offers a reduction of complexity of over 90% [Dietz, 2007]. This reduction of complexity makes an organization for a manager intellectual manageable and transparent. It also shows the coherence between all fields within the enterprise, like business processes, workflow, organisation structure, etc.

While ontology describes the system itself, architecture describes how to design a system. We adopt here a prescriptive notion on architecture. For a detailed explanation of architecture, designing and engineering and how they relate, see my previous post ‘Architecture, a definition‘. For an example of using the prescriptive notion of Enterprise Architecture in practice see my previous post ‘Implementing Enterprise Architecture‘.


I think Enterprise Engineering is a nice, and needed, point of view for designing and implementing enterprises. The important notions of ontology and architecture are very useful in reducing complexity and in giving more insight in the construction (white box view) of an enterprise. Much can be written about these concepts, I’ll left that for future posts.

[Dietz, 2006] Dietz, J.L.G., Enterprise Ontology – theory and methodology, Springer-Verlag Heidelberg, Berlin, New York 2006.

[Dietz, 2007] J.L.G. Dietz, J.A.P. Hoogervorst, Enterprise Ontology and Enterprise Architecture – how to let them evolve into effective complementary notions. GEAO Journal of Enterprise Architecture, 2007, vol 1.

[Hoogervorst, 2007] Hoogervorst, J.A.P., Enterprise Governance & Architectuur, Corporate, IT en enterprise governance in samenhangend perspectief. Academic Service, 2007.

4 Comments Added

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  1. Eileen November 23, 2007 | Reply

    Great points Johan! In the United States we call this field something new too – ‘Business architects’. The concept is the same, the name is different as the accountability is to the business units, not the engineering team. I see this as a pure conflict of interest, but that is just my 2 cents. Let’s see which one works out to be a better value.

  2. Michael Poulin June 1, 2008 | Reply

    Johan, very well done!
    I liked the form and content… except the example with a Business-IT-bicycle. You said “Isn’t IT just a tool to reach the enterprise goals?” If so, we can say the same thing about a business. Until we treat IT as a tool, there will be no coherence and consistency in designing and implementing an enterprise. Enterprise IT must be the partner to any other enterprise BU. We see more and more examples where the business becomes helpless and incapable of making revenue without its IT.
    I think, the paradigm you refer is already found in SOA in its new, business-centric interpretation ( OASIS SOA RM). Based on it, integrity between business and IT may be reached in the form of Service-Oriented Enterprise (BTW, the business part of an enterprise is already service-oriented by definition). I have started a BLOG with this regards and would be very interested in your opinion (http://blogs.ittoolbox.com/eai/soe )

  3. Rosa Chavez November 17, 2008 | Reply

    i was wondering if achitecture and engineering are the same thing ?
    I want to be an architect but every university i want to anttend only does engineering and if its the same thing i will go but if its not then theres no reson for me to go to that university. If you can get back to me that would be great thank You Rosa

  4. Johan den Haan December 3, 2008 | Reply

    Hi Rosa,
    Architecture is in most cases a specialization within software engineering. I think it is necessary to have a sound engineering background. At the Delft University of Technology here in the Netherlands, we have the master ‘Information Architecture’ which is focused on architecture. You can follow this master if you have a bachelor degree in computer science.

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