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IT Service Status
IT Service Status

Enterprise Architecture Principles

Primacy of Principles

Statement: These principles of information management apply to all organizations within Northwestern University Administrative Systems Technology Division.

Rationale: The only way we can provide a consistent and measurable level of quality information to decision-makers is if all organizations in the Enterprise abide by the principles defined herewith.


  • Without this principle, exclusions, favoritism, and inconsistency would rapidly undermine the management of information.
  • Information management initiatives will not begin until they are examined for compliance with the principles.
  • A conflict with a principle will be resolved by changing the framework of the initiative.

Maximize Benefit to the Enterprise

Statement: Information management decisions are made to provide maximum benefit to the enterprise as a whole.

Rationale: This principle embodies "service above self." Decisions made from an enterprise-wide perspective have greater long-term value than decisions made from any particular organizational perspective. Maximum return on investment requires information management decisions to adhere to enterprise-wide drivers and priorities. No minority group will detract from the benefit of the whole. However, this principle will not preclude any minority group from getting its job done.


  • Achieving maximum enterprise-wide benefit will require changes in the way we plan and manage information. Technology alone will not bring about this change.
  • Some organizations may have to concede their own preferences for the greater benefit of the entire enterprise.
  • Application development priorities must be established by the entire enterprise for the entire enterprise.
  • Applications components should be shared across organizational boundaries.
  • Information management initiatives should be conducted in accordance with the enterprise plan. Individual organizations should pursue information management initiatives which conform to the blueprints and priorities established by the enterprise. We will change the plan as we need to.
  • As needs arise, priorities must be adjusted. A forum with comprehensive enterprise representation should make these decisions.


Statement: Software and hardware should conform to defined standards that promote interoperability for data, applications, and technology.

Rational: Standards help ensure consistency, thus improving the ability to manage systems and improve user satisfaction, and protect existing IT investments, thus maximizing return on investment and reducing cost. Standards for interoperability additionally help ensure support from multiple vendors for their products, and facilitate data and process integration.


  • Interoperability standards and industry standards will be followed unless there is a compelling business reason to implement a non-standard solution.
  • A process for setting standards, reviewing and revising them periodically, and granting exceptions must be established.
  • The existing IT platforms must be identified and documented.

Data is an Accessible, Shared Asset

Statement: Data is an asset that has value to the enterprise and is managed accordingly to maximize its accuracy, currency, integrity and consistency. Users understand and have access to all data necessary to perform their duties.

Rationale: Data is a valuable University resource; it has real, measurable value. Timely access to accurate data is essential to improving the quality and efficiency of enterprise decision-making. We must therefore carefully manage data to ensure that we know where it is, can rely upon its accuracy, and empower appropriate individuals to obtain it when and where it is needed.


  • Education is required to ensure that all organizations within the enterprise understand the relationship between value of data, sharing of data, and accessibility to data.
  • Stewards must have the authority and means to manage the data for which they are accountable.
  • The role of data steward is critical because obsolete, incorrect, or inconsistent data could be passed to enterprise personnel and adversely affect decisions across the enterprise. Procedures must be developed and used to prevent and correct errors in the information and to correct those processes that produce flawed information. Data quality will need to be measured.
  • A forum with comprehensive enterprise-wide representation should decide on policy and process changes suggested by stewards.
  • To protect our informational asset from degradation over time, we must invest in software capable of migrating legacy system data into a shared data/metadata environment and providing continuity of analysis for data independent of the current transactional systems that generate it.
  • The principle of data sharing will continually conflict with the principle of data security. The data sharing principle must not cause confidential data to be compromised; the data security principle should not be used to constrain business effectiveness.
  • Access to view data must be differentiated from the right to modify or disclose the data.

Common Vocabulary and Data Definition

Statement: Data is defined consistently throughout the enterprise, and the definitions are understandable and available to all users.

Rationale: The data that will be used in the development of applications must have a common definition throughout Admin Systems to enable sharing of data. A common vocabulary will facilitate communications and enable dialogue to be effective. In addition, it is required to effectively interface systems and exchange data.


  • Significant energy and resources must be committed to this task. It is key to the success of efforts to improve the information environment.
  • The enterprise must establish the common vocabulary for the business. The definitions will be used uniformly throughout the enterprise.
  • Whenever a new data definition is required, the definition effort will be coordinated and reconciled with the institutional glossary of data descriptions. The enterprise data administrator will provide this co-ordination.
  • The institutional glossary of data descriptions must be easily accessible and referenced in reporting.
  • Ambiguities resulting from multiple parochial definitions of data must give way to accepted enterprise-wide definitions and understanding.
  • Multiple data standardization initiatives need to be coordinated.


Statement: Applications are easy to use. The underlying technology is transparent to users, so they can concentrate on tasks at hand.

Rationale: The more a user has to understand the underlying technology, the less productive that user is. Ease-of-use is a positive incentive for use of applications. It encourages users to work within the integrated information environment instead of developing isolated systems to accomplish the task outside of the enterprise's integrated information environment. Most of the knowledge required to operate one system will be similar to others. Training is kept to a minimum, and the risk of using a system improperly is low.


  • Applications will be required to have a common "look and feel" and support ergonomic requirements. Hence, the common look and feel standard must be designed and usability test criteria must be developed.
  • Guidelines for user interfaces should not be constrained by narrow assumptions about user location, language, systems training, or physical capability. Factors such as linguistics, customer physical infirmities (visual acuity, ability to use keyboard/mouse), and proficiency in the use of technology have broad ramifications in determining the ease-of-use of an application.
  • User facing – Faculty, Staff and Student facing applications would be a priority.

Technology Independence

Statement: Applications are independent of specific technology choices and therefore can operate on a variety of technology platforms.

Rationale: Independence of applications from the underlying technology allows applications to be developed, upgraded, and operated in the most cost-effective and timely way. Otherwise technology, which is subject to continual obsolescence and vendor dependence, becomes the driver rather than the user requirements themselves. Realizing that every decision made with respect to IT makes us dependent on that technology, the intent of this principle is to ensure that Application Software is not dependent on specific hardware/software/platform choices.


  • This principle will require standards which support portability and interoperability.
  • For Commercial Off-The-Shelf (COTS) applications, there may be limited current choices, as many of these applications are technology and platform-dependent.
  • Application Program Interfaces (APIs) or other integration methods may need to be developed to enable applications to interoperate with applications and operating environments developed under the enterprise architecture.
  • Middleware should be used to decouple applications from specific software solutions.

Requirements-based Change

Statement: Changes to applications and technology are made only with the approval and partnership of business leaders.

Rationale: This principle will foster an atmosphere where the information environment changes in response to the needs of the business. This is to ensure that the purpose of the information support - the transaction of business - is the basis for any proposed change. Unintended effects on business due to IT changes will be minimized. A change in technology may provide an opportunity to improve the business process and, hence, change business needs.


  • Changes in implementation will follow full examination of the proposed changes using the enterprise architecture.
  • Technical improvement or system development project effort needs the approval of a business partner.
  • Change management processes conforming to this principle will be developed and implemented.
  • The purpose of this principle is to keep us focused on business, not technology needs - responsive change is also a business need.