The Four Dimensions of the Business Architecture

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The early beginnings of Business Architecture (BA) development used a business/function process model of the enterprise.  This type of model illustrates the typical functional groupings of a business.  These groups are further placed into two categories: Primary, which directly relate to the business of the Enterprise, (e.g. Customer Care), and Supporting, which enable the primary functionality, (e.g. Finance).  Each functional group contains several unique business processes (e.g. in Finance, there are corporate accounting and asset management). This model is sometimes useful for describing some aspects of the enterprise because the functions remain generally constant. The company may change its organizational structure and its processes, but the basic functions remain relatively stable.

Initially, some believed this model or view of the enterprise was adequate; however, the multi dimensional nature of 21st century enterprises requires a far more comprehensive view for Business Architecture purposes. The Business Architecture has expanded and evolved up from the business/function process model even though many continue to represent the BA in this manner.

The business/function process model provides a one dimensional view of the enterprise, or perhaps at best, a two dimensional view of the enterprise. In the first dimension is the function itself or up and down the functional and organizational chart. Frequently, these functions exist in the same organizational structure.

In the second dimension are the cross functional processes of the enterprise. Usually, these processes span across the various functional groups of the enterprise and are generally represented in graphical models used in basic business process improvement initiatives. Most likely, these models are drawn in a top-down manner in vertical functional swim lanes with flow between the swim lanes representing the cross functional nature of the process. Even though this two dimensional view of the enterprise is somewhat helpful, it is woefully inadequate at representing the multi dimensional nature of the enterprise. Here is where the usefulness of the business/function process model needs to expand for the BA.

To complete the view of the BA, two more dimensions are required. In the third dimension are the customers and suppliers. For example, when products and services are delivered to a customer, the customer sees the result of an end-to-end cross functional process, not just of one or two functional activities. In serious business process improvement and BPM initiatives, this third dimension is necessary in order to achieve significant improvements. These end-to-end cross functional processes, which consider the third dimension of the customer or supplier provide additional opportunities not available when viewing the enterprise in only two dimensions.

In the fourth dimension, time becomes critical. Getting new products and services to customers ahead of the competition is a corporate imperative. In order to achieve a competitive advantage, the enterprise must anticipate market demand, build those new products and services, and deliver them to their customers in a timely manner. It is necessary that the strategy drive this anticipation of market demand, rather than just letting the enterprise react to market forces, or worse yet, to new products and services delivered by the competition. Here again, the dimension of time is neither understood nor comprehensible in the two dimensional business/function process model.

These end-to-end cross functional processes which consider all four dimensions are better described and defined as value streams. In James Martin’s book, The Great Transition, a value stream is defined as end-to-end collection of activities that creates a result for a “customer.” The value stream has a clear goal: to satisfy or to delight the customer. Building the BA on a foundation of value streams provides a multi-dimensional view and a more comprehensive view of the enterprise; a view not available in the business/function process model.  Using only the two-dimensional business/function process model of the enterprise limits analysis by starting with a design flaw and obstructing a multi dimensional view of the enterprise!

Next, one needs to complement the multi-dimensional models with enterprise wide integration of these value streams. Developing two isolated or independent value streams do not define a Business Architecture. However, integrating two related value streams such as Prospect-to-Customer and Order-to-Cash in an engineering type model, is the beginning of a true architectural representation of the business.  This Business Architecture model then evolves into a blueprint of the enterprise built using architectural disciplines to improve performance.  This “blueprint” requires an organized set of elements, a principle of composition, and a style and method of design and construction. These requirements are properly satisfied and fulfilled with integrated value streams.

Building the Business Architecture on an integrated value stream foundation and analyzing it in four dimensions is the key enabler to customer centric thinking and viewing the enterprise holistically.  This approach greatly exceeds the capability afforded by the poorly integrated, two dimensional business/function process model. The view from the business/function process model is not discarded, but integrated and expanded in two additional dimensions in order to provide a view of the customer or supplier, and time to market considerations.

Many process consultants are using the business/function process model on process improvement engagements because this model probably already exists. This type of model is not an architectural type, but merely a catalog of functions and process most likely lacking formal integration.  While perhaps carefully organized in standard categories, it usually lacks any architectural disciplines. If the enterprise has undergone some merger or acquisition activities, then perhaps the business/function process model is just an inventory of functions and processes. An inventory or catalog is significantly different from an architecture!

Building an architecture of the business is a significant endeavor.  Even so, building the BA on integrated value streams provides far more information for research in all four dimensions of the enterprise.  After all, the added dimensions of customer and time will provide more insightful analysis of the enterprise blueprint, and identify opportunities for enterprise wide performance improvement and a competitive advantage.


Ankit Tara
posted 4 years 12 weeks ago

Agree with Mr. Poulin's

Agree with Mr. Poulin's comment. This is a generic hot air article. I was looking for tangible definition of business architecture.
Ankit Tara
posted 6 years 23 weeks ago

I thought that this article

I thought that this article about dimensions of Business Architecture while the content refers to the dimensions of enterprise.

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