A band of IT executives have teamed to launch a new alliance, the Enterprise Architecture Interest Group (EAIG), which aims to help companies develop and share tips on building well-structured IT systems.The fledgling group plans to release next month its first creation, a set of 12 meta models intended as architectural building blocks. It also has working groups studying ways to measure the benefits of formalizing an enterprise architecture, and developing value models for use by EAIG members and their organizations.Founding member Richard Taggart, chief architect at General Motors, said EAIG's goal is to create standards, methods and practices for enterprise architecture. For now, the group is excluding vendors, preferring to stay vendor-neutral and base its work on users' input. "It's important that we not be technology driven, but driven by practice," he said."Architecture is becoming a hotter and hotter topic," Taggart said.It's a valuable one to tackle. Developing a general architectural plan has helped GM reduce computing complexity by trimming the number of applications in use at the company from 7,000 to 3,000 and has contributed to saving $1 billion annually for the past five years, according to Taggart.Creating enterprise architectural blueprints can also help companies cut costs with outsourcing, Taggart said. "It helps you understand what can or can't, and should or shouldn't, be outsourced," he said.In addition to GM, EAIG's members include Volkswagen, DaimlerChrysler, Booz Allen Hamilton, Oakland University, Sandia National Laboratories and the Zachman Institute for Framework Advancement, a group that promotes a model called the Zachman Framework as a starting point for describing enterprise systems. Membership fees start at $5,000 per year.If EAIG decides to start tapping vendors' expertise, it's likely to have a number of eager participants. Formal planning is part of the "on demand" strategy espoused by a number of vendors, including IBM, and is at the core of HP's "adaptive enterprise" vision. HP released last year a reference architecture, dubbed Darwin, intended to assist companies in planning a standardized, flexible IT infrastructure.