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John Zachman: Zachman Framework 101

The Data Management Association (DAMA) symposium in Denver a few weeks ago featured a new set of sessions on the Zachman Framework, an "enterprise architecture framework" developed by John Zachman that helps companies develop "descriptive representations," or two-dimensional models, of an enterprise. Zachman first developed the classification system in the early 1980s, when he was working at IBM information systems implementations and is essentially a set of modeling tools and best practices used to describe an enterprise or any complex project.

The framework is perhaps best understood with the aid of a graphical diagram, available at The framework looks like a grid with the rows representing the points of view of various operational groups (business owner, engineers, etc.) and the columns describe different aspects of the business process -- the who, what, when, where, why and how. When classifying an enterprise or business problem, each box on the framework is defined to get a complete understanding of the issue being modeled - the who, what, when, where, why and how of the issue from the points of view of different operational groups involved with the process. The idea is that by modeling like this, companies can better understand the business problems, as well as future complexity and change.

The data management community plays an important role in explaining the benefits of the framework, Zachman said. Data management professionals, familiar with the benefits of modeling, are uniquely suited to surface the concept and benefits of enterprise architecture. caught up with John Zachman to get the basics of the Zachman Framework.

What inspired your work on the Zachman Framework?
I was working for IBM at the time and we were trying to understand how companies get from enterprise strategy to implementation. We were thinking more specifically about system implementations. But as it turns out, the whole issue had to do with the enterprise - it's not simply a system issue. It's an issue of actually engineering and manufacturing your enterprise. What exactly is the Zachman Framework?
The best way to understand it is through a metaphor. The whole idea has to do with architecture. In the early 70s, we [IBM] were doing information strategy work at airplane manufacturing companies. It was obvious that airplane manufacturers knew what architecture was relative to airplanes. They were producing extremely complex objects - airplanes. And they could maintain them for an extremely long time. So, they could deal with extreme complexity and extreme change.

If you're going to create a complex object, you need to be able to describe it. For example, if you cannot describe the airplane, you cannot create the airplane. On top of that, once you get it created and then you want to change it -- how do you do that? You go back to your descriptive representations, which are the basis for change. If you want to deal with complexity and change, then you are going to deal with architecture. It doesn't make any difference if you're talking about buildings, or airplanes, or supercomputers or enterprises. So, airplane manufacturers were your inspiration?
We knew architecture was the key to connecting up strategy to the implementation. I didn't know what architecture was for an enterprise - so my idea was to find out what architecture is for something else. If we could understand what it is for an airplane or building, maybe we can figure out what it is for an enterprise.

I was working with airplane manufacturers and they knew about architecture. They could connect up strategy to implementation and they could deal with extreme complexity and change. I found out that there is a set of descriptive representations that are relevant to describe the airplane -- there's not just one, there are a whole bunch of them. You've got these descriptive representations from the perspective of the owner and ones from the perspective of the designer or the builder. And you have different functions to take into account. You can classify the descriptive representation of anything based on the material composition, functionality, geometry, workflow, timing and the motivation or the engineering rationale. What business problems does the Zachman Framework solve?
The trouble is that the enterprises of the world have not been engineered. It's little wonder that they're not managed very well, they can't minimize expenditure, they can't handle change. And we're getting into the information age now where everything is getting really complex. Enterprise architecture helps CEOs deal with complexity and change, so they can produce and build services or products at a reasonable cost. Why are you at DAMA this year? What is the significance of the Zachman Framework to the data management community?
If there's any architecture work going on in the enterprise - it probably surfaces in the data community. And, if there's any other formal modeling, the data people traditionally have some influence.

Whoever begins to understand the issue of enterprise architecture, it's incumbent on them to surface the issue and to try to get some understanding throughout the enterprise. The enterprise is not going to learn about this by an accident. Data people are significant because they could begin to articulate the issues and help the enterprise understand what the problems are.

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