Understanding and explaining small- and medium-sized enterprise (SME) growth is important for sustainability from multiple perspectives. Research indicates that SMEs comprise more than 80% of most economies, and their cumulative impact on sustainability considerations is far from trivial. In addition, for sustainability concerns to be prioritized, an SME has to be successful over time. In most developing countries, SMEs play a major role in solving socio-economic challenges. SMEs are an active research topic within the information systems (IS) discipline, often within the enterprise architecture (EA) domain. EA fundamentally adopts a systems perspective to describe the essential elements of a socio-technical organization and their relationships to each other and to the environment in order to understand complexity and manage change. However, despite rapid adoption originally, EA research and practice often fails to deliver on expectations. In some circles, EA became synonymous with projects that are over-budget, over-time and costly without the expected return on investment. In this paper, we argue that EA remains indispensable for understanding and explaining enterprises and that we fundamentally need to revisit some of the applications of EA. We, therefore, executed a research study in two parts. In the first part, we applied IS theory perspectives and adopted the taxonomy and structural components of theory to argue that EA, as represented by the Zachman Framework for Enterprise Architecture (ZFEA), could be adopted as an explanatory IS theory. In the second part of the study, we subsequently analysed multiple case studies from this theoretical basis to investigate whether distinguishable focus patterns could be detected during SME growth. The final results provide evidence that EA, represented through an appropriate framework like the ZFEA, could serve as an explanatory theory for SMEs during start-up, growth and transformation. We identified focus patterns and from these results, it should be possible to understand and explain how SMEs grow. Positioning the ZFEA as explanatory IS theory provides insight into the role and purpose of the ZFEA (and by extension EA), and could assist researchers and practitioners with mediating the challenges experienced by SMEs, and, by extension, enhance sustainable development.
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