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Latest Release of Zachman Framework Highlights Its Role as an Ontology

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John Zachman, considered one of the fathers of the Enterprise Architecture discipline, recently released the third edition of his popular framework.  This version included some minor text updates, improved graphics and a subtle effort to re-classify this artifact as an ontology instead of a framework.

The Zachman Framework lays out a structure for how to describe a complex entity like an Enterprise Architecture.  In a comparison of Enterprise Architecture methodologies, Roger Sessions described the origins of the Framework.

Zachman's vision was that business value and agility could best be realized by a holistic approach to systems architecture that explicitly looked at every important issue from every important perspective. His multi-perspective approach to architecting systems is what Zachman originally described as an information systems architectural framework and soon renamed to be an enterprise-architecture framework.

Tangibly, the Framework identifies a pair of classifications that form the basis for a 6x6 matrix representation. The first classification is captured in the columns which are “What” (the inventory), “How” (the processes), “Where” (the distribution network), “Who” (the responsibilities), “When” (the timing) and “Why” (the motivation). The rows of the matrix capture the personas and their perspective.  These include the “Executive Perspective” (the planner), “Business Management Perspective” (the owner), “Architect Perspective” (the designer), “Engineer Perspective” (the builder), Technician Perspective” (the component builder) and “Enterprise Perspective” (the users). Each of the cells that make up the heart of the graphic outline which artifact satisfies the intersection of the classifications. 

Zachman himself, as well as proponents of the Framework, are quick to point out that the Framework is NOT a methodology. It lacks a prescriptive strategy for collecting the data needed to construct the artifacts, doesn’t tell users how to create the architecture itself and cannot measure the maturity of an architecture. It is complimentary to actual EA methodologies such as TOGAF.

This third edition of the Framework introduces a few key changes that were pointed out by Ron Ross and Keri Anderson Healy of the Business Rules Journal. First, the Framework has introduced a subtitle which identifies the Framework as an ontology (“The Enterprise Ontology”). Also, the word “data” is now conspicuously absent from the first column of the matrix.

Some new terms appear as replacements, aiming to better convey the ‘business’ message. Zachman explains:

“Because I came from an ‘information’ community I had initially used words like ‘data’ in column 1. Big mistake! People thought the Framework was about IT! The first thing people saw was the word ‘data’.

Anderson Healy and Ross also point out the changes to the bottom row of the Framework.

Adjustments have been made to row 6 to better convey what it is about. In early versions of the Framework graphic, row 6 was depicted as just a sliver. It has always been ‘the enterprise’. Row 6 is different in nature from the five rows above it, which are engineering specifications for things in the enterprise, rather than the actual things themselves

In a LinkedIn group discussion entitled “Time to rethink Zachman?”, one responder explains the enduring value of Zachman’s contribution.

Is Zachman relevant? For me the answer is an emphatic yes, but with some provisoes... As one of the leading thinkers in this space, Zachman has had a profound impact on the discipline and how we think about architecting an enterprise. To discount Zachman and say that he is no longer relevant would be like dismissing Roman and Greek architecture and its relevance to contemporary building. But as with the comparison with the Romans and Greeks, the relevance is more to do with the fundamentals - the principles and theory is absolutely necessary to understand what enterprise architecture is all about - but it needs to be mixed with a whole lot of other things.

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