Enterprise Architecture vs. Solution Architecture: A Simplified Comparison

29 Sep 2022

by Rebecca Harrisson

Just as physical buildings follow carefully designed architectural blueprints, conceiving stable, safe structures and hopefully pleasing to the eye, every business needs to map out their unseen data into a ‘blueprint’ that encompasses their entire organization. 

That’s what architects do: they map out and design organizations. Unfortunately, there’s no all-encompassing definition of Enterprise Architecture vs. Solution Architecture that everyone agrees on.

Ask Google, and you’ll find many interpretations. Look into online forums, and you’ll find people disagreeing vehemently on semantics, and with good reason. Each unique organization needs to develop a method and definition of architecture that best suits its purpose. 

As Gideon Slifkin, Enterprise Architect and LinkedIn thought leader, outlined in “Is Enterprise Architecture Dead?”, everyone has their definition of Enterprise Architecture (EA), and everyone is right. 

So, instead of definitions that won’t hold for everyone, we’ll focus on outlining the basics of each area. People working in these roles will, naturally, adapt these definitions to their specific organization and background in Enterprise and Solution Architecture.

What’s Enterprise Architecture?

As the name suggests, Enterprise Architecture (EA) looks at the entirety of the enterprise. It helps shape the organization and can involve defining the business properties, capabilities, people, and potential future outcomes. Often this starts by gathering data and mapping it out to show the relationships between all the different entities of an organization.

Enterprise Architecture can help an organization maintain its everyday applications and equip it to manage change. You’ll find Enterprise Architecture working with a mix of these architectures: application, business, data, and infrastructure.

What Does an Enterprise Architect Do?

Enterprise Architects usually work within the 4 areas noted above. Depending on organizational needs, work could include:

  • Application Architecture: designing, mapping, and security.
  • Business Architecture: development, strategy, capabilities, and value chains. 
  • Data Architecture: strategy and governance.
  • Infrastructure Architecture: automation, governance, and building reliability. 

For example, let’s say company XYZ wants to exploit the possibilities inherent in AI technology - for instance, mapping customer engagement patterns to predict what they might purchase next. The Enterprise Architect could map how XYZ uses AI today and what steps should happen to reach its future goals. They could note which changes should take place in the infrastructure by adding applications, processes, skills, and teams, assessing risks, and predicting the scenarios resulting from these future decisions. enterprise architecture people

Enterprise Architects today must understand their businesses and the qualities their stakeholders care about.

- Dana Bredemeyer and Ruth Malan, What It Takes to Be a Great Enterprise Architect

How Does Enterprise Architecture Add Value?

Enterprise Architecture helps companies plan and execute the future by supporting their daily decisions. EA provides the overview needed for decision-makers to understand what’s happening across their organization. 

Depending on the organizational need, enterprise architecture adds value to:

  • Technology: Enhancing the quality of IT services.
  • Finance: Providing improved business solutions and business technologies that save time and lower costs.
  • Strategy: Defining and aligning strategy, improving customer experience, or improving supply chain performance.
  • Operations: Helping operations improve processes, data collection, and reporting.
  • Business outcomes: Pinpointing cost reduction and investment opportunities. 

What’s Solution Architecture?

Solution Architecture focuses on the solutions for specific business needs. Actually, it’s not that easy. Solution Architecture covers a wide area, from solving existing business challenges to finding solutions to new problems. It defines how to structure a solution and how to make it happen.

What Does a Solution Architect Do?

Solution Architects develop and integrate solutions and processes based on the enterprise’s needs. How they go about this depends on the individual’s background and how the organization defines its solution architecture. 

Depending on the situation and after being presented with a business challenge, Solution Architects would look at the current technologies available and what needs to be developed to allow the business to reach that solution. 

The Solution Architect’s job could include studying all aspects of the solution, budget, technology, risk, time, quality, etc. They would find the limitations and restrictions that impact the project and then plan their solution around these. 

For example, a Solution Architect might be tasked with building a solution that deals with knowledge management in the company. There are many different ways to design and build this over time. As they build, the Solution Architecture ensures it’s functionally suitable, has security capabilities, is reliable, and is available to people across the organization. Sometimes, they will map the qualities of the solution, creating a clear overview of the process. 

How Does Solution Architecture Add Value?

A well-built architecture ensures that solutions are delivered within budget, on time, and solve the problem as promised.

Solution Architects add value by planning and streamlining solutions. They understand the value proposition, solution components, scope, and pricing model. They make sure that the solutions match the corporate strategy and meet stakeholders’ requirements. 

Here are some examples that a Solution Architect could offer to software solutions:

  • Build a seamless customer experience. With an intuitive-to-use solution, customers are more likely to buy.
  • Provide software solutions that are thoroughly stress tested so they have high reliability and performance.
  • Deliver a streamlined solution without expensive extras, giving greater profitability.

A Comparison: Enterprise Architecture vs. Solution Architecture 

As we noted in the beginning, due to each organization’s unique situation, a single definition for Enterprise Architecture or Solution Architecture isn’t possible. The table below gives a general overview but naturally, these two ways of working with architecture results in some overlap. 

enterprise architecture vs solution architecture explained

When you start to describe architecture, you’ll find conflicting definitions. Many architects have extremely strong opinions about architecture and what’s right and wrong with various architectural roles.  

While a lot of information found online can be very useful, a surprising amount of what you read disparages other types of architects. You’ll find some perspectives that take a very narrow view of architecture. If we’ve piqued your interest, keep digging through the information and understand how architecture enhances business outcomes.

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Rebecca Harrisson

Rebecca loves to play with words, constructing clear and concise stories. A Michigan native, she has lived in Europe working in Communications for over 20 years. Enterprise Architecture is restructuring her life, as it can your company’s.

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