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ISO 42010 – An ISO Standard for Architectures

In my last article, “A Strawman for an Architecture Practice Standard”, Anders Tell had suggested that that I look at ISO 42010 and that’s he’s involved in the creation of ISO 42030. Since I hadn’t run across that standard, I thought I’d look into it. Keep in mind that I’m providing feedback after a short look into the standard and that I would suggest you review on your own.

First off, the ISO/IEC/IEEE 42010 standard website can be found at http://www.iso-architecture.org/ieee-1471/index.html  and the standard itself can be found in the ISO catalog at http://www.iso.org/iso/iso_catalogue/catalogue_ics/catalogue_detail_ics.htm?csnumber=50508  .

ISO 42010 was a revision of the original IEEE standard, IEEE std 1471:2000 that came out in 2000. The ISO standard itself was approved for use and published in 2011. The standard was used to define 4 specific cases of conformance:

  • Architecture Description (AD)
  • Architecture Framework
  • Architecture Description Language (ADL)
  • Architecture Viewpoint

From what I can tell, the ISO standard added definitions for architecture framework and for architecture description language to the original IEEE standard.

ISO 42010 focuses very specifically on architectures. It does not focus on the process to create architectures and it doesn’t go anywhere near Architecture practices themselves. The standard website intentionally states tha:

the Standard is process neutral. It defines what you should have when you claim to have an architecture description; it does not mandate how to produce one

Just to be clear, an “Architecture Description” as defined by the ISO standard is the collection of information that makes up an architecture. That architecture can be contained in a document, spreadsheet, in a wiki, or in any “container” (my word) that has information about a system or piece of software. 

I like this aspect which goes back to my article on architecture not being the document but the collection of information (see “Architecture is NOT documentation. It’s NOT process. Don’t mix them up!“). I’m continuously seeing people enslaved by the idea of documentation rather than architecture creation. So good on the Standard describing what is in an Architecture and not what the form is. And, on a personal note, it’s nice to see that I’m not alone in that way of thinking.

The standard also includes a definition of Architecture Framework and the minimum requirements that a framework should provide. What was really interesting in the ISO 42010 website is that there is a link to table describing 68 various frameworks, the layers involved in those frameworks, and often links to the websites of said frameworks. It covers frameworks from AF-EAF (the Air Force Enterprise Architecture Framework) all the way through to the Zachman Framework. If you want to get a good list of the various frameworks, this is a good table to look at.

With regards to Architecture Description Languages (ie. the words and descriptors that are used in association with the creation of an architecture), they avoid a particular ADL set. To quote from the Standard website:

The Standard avoids choosing a particular ADL for the same reasons that it does not require a particular set of viewpoints: systems vary in the concerns that need to be addressed. The philosophy of the Standard is use the right tool for the job: choose notations appropriate to framing the relevant concerns that arise for the system at hand 

Again, I like the philosophy behind the standard in the belief that every situation is different and should use the appropriate tool (which, in this case, can also refer to Framework).

So, in short, this standard isn’t so much about HOW to create an architecture or what FORM the architecture should take but, rather, what an architecture should contain. It provides a series of guidelines to consider when creating your architectures. 

ISO 42030 is a new standard that is being worked on as we speak so I can’t coherently talk about something that doesn’t yet exist in completion. But, looking at the website, the standard focuses on evaluating architectures (Anders: Please chime in on this standard since you are working on it).

So, where does this leave us?

If you look at my last article, I had suggested an Architecture Practice standard that covers 3 areas:

  • A Governance Layer
  • A Strategy Layer
  • A Tactical Layer

Looking at these two standards, ISO 42010 and ISO 42030, I would suggest they are components of the Tactical Layer. ISO 42010 talks to the Architecture component of the Tactical Layer. And ISO 42030 looks like it talks to the process of the creation of the Architecture and the evaluation of the architecture.

The reason why I say it deals with components of the Tactical Layer, there are other Architect activities in the Tactical layer than just the creation of the Architecture. For example, there’s the actual initiation of projects based on strategy. There’s the actual build out of the Architecture and the interative adjustment of the architecture as you go along in the Project Lifecycle. And there’s the oversight the Architect provides as the project is built out. Plus other activities.

So, while these two standards are important, they are only two components of a much larger practice. I like they approach they take because they are leaving a lot of leaway to the individual organizations on how they are going to meet the standards but the overall guidance for the practice itself is missing. And that’s what I’m talking about.

It’s important we understand these standards simply because there are items that an overarching Architecture Management standard will have to align with. So I would highly recommend that you look into these standards and, for those that are interested, try to become involved in the creation of ISO 42030. 

Becoming involved is more valuable than sitting back and complaining or pointing out the flaws in what people say. 

Neil