The Real Reason to Build a Business Architecture

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Today many companies are considering whether or not to undertake a Business Architecture (BA) initiative. Many strategic research and service firms have recognized the importance of linking the BA to the strategy and integrating the BA with its supporting IT architectures, in an Enterprise Architecture (EA) framework. These firms have frequently reported on the BA’s increasing value to successful companies and provided sound reasons for undertaking the initiative. But, this does not make it a sure thing for the enterprise. So, why is a Business Architecture initiative an important one?

The first question to ask is, “Do you want to bring the extended enterprise environment to within the corporate leadership’s sphere of economic influence?” This extended enterprise environment consist of the customers, partners, vendors, suppliers and etc. Some might characterize this environment as a “business web” as defined by Don Tapscott, et al, in their book, Digital Capital. A “business web” is a new business form brought about by the information age: fluid congregations of businesses sometimes highly structured, sometimes amorphous that come together on the Internet to create value for customers and wealth for their shareholders.  If the answer to this question is “yes,” then the Business Architecture may make sense.

The Business Architecture is a blueprint of the enterprise built using architectural disciplines to improve performance. It is defined in four dimensions; the first is in the vertical functional organizations, the second is cross-functional throughout the enterprise and both of these are within the corporate boundary. In the third is Tapscott’s “business web”, the customers and suppliers, and in the fourth dimension is time or in corporate terms, time to market, beating the competition with new products and services. It is the synergy of these four dimensions of the BA that brings the extended enterprise environment to within the corporate leadership’s sphere of economic influence.

By providing a customer-centric view of the enterprise, the BA focuses on those things that are critical to enterprise success; its customers, the revenue generating source! The BA views the enterprise holistically, not as a collection of loosely associated parts, but as an integrated whole used for systems thinking.  It better enables the alignment of essential initiatives to the corporate strategy along with their appropriate metrics, measures and expectations for success, thereby providing a strategy to results capability.

If one accepts this premise then how does one go about getting a BA initiative approved? Building and implementing a Business Architecture is very demanding. It requires exemplary corporate leadership, collaboration between all enterprise organizations, and visionary designers. It is not a project type initiative with an estimated start/stop date and fixed budget, but a new corporate behavior and way of life.

How is the Business Architecture put in a cost benefit analysis? Perhaps one can not express this type of benefit in just numbers. Sadly, many executives dismiss reasons that can not be captured in a spreadsheet or ignore those that maybe just “feel right.” Regardless, many enterprises undertake initiatives because they are compelling, but not necessarily supported in rows and columns of numbers. They do it because their gut tells them it is the right thing to do; not because every other enterprise is doing it and succeeding. Perhaps the greatest initiative or most significant outcome in an enterprise’s history was undertaken based on intuition, not the numbers found in a cost benefit analysis! For example, some hardware and service firms imbedded in host computing in the 1980s were slow to embrace the personal computer, its distributed computing environment and the Internet. The numbers and spreadsheets did not make sense, much less justify the risks. Besides, they were too locked into the host computing paradigm. This enabled numerous startup companies to gain a foothold in a new market, unrealized by the established companies. These startups are the new mega enterprises of today and are enormously successful with an enviable sphere of economic influence.

These new startup companies had dreams, new paradigms and measures of success.  They were full of creative entrepreneurs who left their mediocre corporate environments and apathetic management in the dust because they wanted to be first or best at something new and exciting. These entrepreneurs were driven by a vision, not managed by milestones in a project schedule. They were wildly curious about the new opportunities in the field of personal computing and they wanted to conceive of something of wonder for future generations, perhaps leaving behind a new corporate legacy.

The opportunities and potential capabilities of a Business Architecture initiative may not rival the ones that occurred with personal computing, but it certainly stands abreast of Enterprise Architecture (EA) development, Business Process Management (BPM) and Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) development. As with these strategic initiatives, the BA is a new corporate behavior and way of life, not just another project with a schedule and budget.

So, what is the answer to the question, “Do you want to bring the extended enterprise environment to within the corporate leadership’s sphere of economic influence?” If the answer is “no”, then just hope the competition is thinking the same way. If the answer is “yes”, then does the Business Architecture provide that enabling capability and good reasons to support the decision? The BA enables an understanding of the enterprise, expanded outside its traditional boundaries. It is a four dimensional corporate blueprint with a customer centric and holistic view of the enterprise. Is the development of a Business Architecture the right strategic initiative for the enterprise? What does your gut tell you?

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