A New Paradigm For Business Architecture

by Jeff Scott, on Apr 24, 2012 5:08:00 AM

Re-thinking EA for Business Architecture — Part 6

This is the last of a six part blog series examining how we think about the practice of enterprise architecture and why we should think about it differently. I believe that our approach to business architecture needs to be radically different from our past approach to technology focused EA. If we are going to be successful business architects, we have to re-think some of our most basic beliefs.

A quick summary of this series:

Part 1: Three Critical Questions: EAs have yet to demonstrate the repeatable, high-value results that other IT organizations have produced.

Part 2: The EA Paradigm: The fundamental EA model of governing the transition from the current state to a future state is flawed.

Part 3: The EA Force Field: Current industry trends are driving EA marginalization in the current model.

Part 4: EA Innovators: EAs seem to be stuck in an outdated view of their role and very few are innovating.

Part 5: EA’s Golden Circle: Really, why do you want to be an architect? What is at the core of EAs thinking?

So, where do we go from here?

What do we need to do? How do we create a successful business architecture practice? We might start with acknowledging the realities of the past and creating a view of business architecture that can seize the opportunities of the future. What does this new paradigm look like? I am not entirely sure but here are a few ideas.

Start with why. Why do you believe that architecture is the solution to your organization’s problems? What are the problems you want to solve? Why do you, yes YOU, want to be an architect? I know my why. Here it is. I believe that when organizations think creatively, act strategically, and work collaboratively they create more value for their customers, more wealth for their shareholders, and most importantly more meaning for their employees. What is your why?

Move from future state targets to continuous evolution. When we talk about moving an organization forward we always have some type of future state view in mind. The technology architecture future state can be articulated clearly with a fair amount of detail. Architects know exactly how they would rebuild their company’s technology given the chance. And there is no question that the new architecture would be much more efficient and effective. Business architecture is a little different. Executives aren’t as sure if their vision of the future would be a huge improvement. Customer acceptance, competitor reaction, regulatory change, and dozens of other unknowns affect the final outcome. Business change is focused by a future vision that is shaped, molded, and modified in small ways every day as the situation changes and the organization learns. The goal of the business architect isn’t to methodologically drive the organization to its specified future state goal. It is to ensure that every day the organization is one step closer to getting where it wants to be.

Move from IT to business centric thinking. The biggest problem about being part of IT isn’t the lack of connection to the business. It is the way the IT context shapes our thinking. We tend to see the world through an IT lens no matter how hard we try to be business focused. For an example of this just pick up any book with “Business Architecture” in the title and give it a skim. They are all produced by writers with IT backgrounds and you will find that most of the book is not about business concerns but is about modeling languages, frameworks etc. To be successful, business architects will not only have to have a good understanding of business but will also have to see IT from a business centric point of view.

Move from governance to collaboration. Governance means a variety of things depending on the context. Corporate governance focuses on oversight. Management governance is concerned with assigning decision rights. Functional governance is more about policy adherence. Business architecture will surely need some oversight and will most likely involve clarifying decision rights on occasion. There will be very little governance in the adherence category. Smart corporate leaders know you can’t demand adherence to strategy, you have to create support. Successful business architects will be those who can facilitate broad and cohesive support for the elements of business architecture.

Move from frameworks to toolboxes. Frameworks can often provide a good structure for thinking about problems and can sometimes help organize the solution. If your business architecture is predominately about modeling business processes, then a modeling framework might help. But if you see business architecture more broadly as the process of managing business change then frameworks may be more limiting than helpful. Business architecture is not going to be as structured or as neatly organized as technology architecture. Business architects will need a variety of tools at their disposal to address the wide assortment of problems they encounter. For architects, “thinking outside the box” should become “thinking outside the framework”.

This series has been fun to write. The ideas here have been rolling around in my head for a few years and it feels good to get them out. While I might sound slightly negative about EA’s history (I call it realistic), I see a great future for business architects who chose to break from the past and take the road less traveled.

So where do you want to go?


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