Current Business Architecture Definitions Are Not Helpful

by Jeff Scott, on Jul 11, 2017 2:03:42 PM

gear head.pngI’ve been thinking about the business architecture profession – where we are and where we want to go. We have been at this for at least ten years with a lot of struggle and a little success. I think it is time we reflect on where we’ve been, where we are currently headed, and where we might like to go. This is the fifth post in the series, “Reimagining Business Architecture”. The ideas expressed here are meant to stir thought in the community and I would definitely like to hear yours. Post a comment or email me at:

Author’s note about this post. I am NOT promoting my definition or any other specific definition of business architecture. I simply want you to think about what definition of business architecture will make you the most successful.   

Current business architecture definitions use architecture as a noun to describe what they produce. Here are examples I found on the web:

BA Guild “A blueprint of the enterprise that provides a common understanding of the organization and is used to align strategic objectives and tactical demands.”

OMG “A formal blueprint of governance structures, business semantics and value streams across the extended enterprise.”

The Open Group “A definition of the business strategy, governance, organization, and key business processes.”

These definitions are not necessarily wrong; they are just not very helpful. Because they define business architecture as a “thing” – the blueprint - they ignore what business architects do. This leads to confusion among architects and indifference among business leaders.

My point of view

What_Is_BA.pngBusiness architecture is not a blueprint. If you ask a building architect what architecture is, he or she will definitely not say a set of blueprints. Blueprints are just one way to express what the architect does. If business architecture is a blueprint, what is it a blueprint of? According to the definitions above, it is a blueprint of the business. But could you build a business from business architecture blueprints? I don’t think so. You could certainly inform your organization about building a business but I have yet to see business architecture blueprints in enough detail to actually build one.

If you declare business architecture is a set of blueprints then what is the architect’s role? Is it simply to create a set of blueprints? Is it limited to using blueprints for analyzing organizational problems and identifying needs? One of the reasons I don’t like this definition is it unnecessarily limits the business architect’s role.

Business architecture is not a design. Most building architects will express what they do as some form of design. When doing this they are using the verb from rather than noun form of the word – “to create, fashion, execute, or construct according to plan, to create the plans, drawings, etc., that show how (something) will be made”, Webster’s Dictionary.

If business architecture is design, then what are we designing? It is the rare business architect that will have even one opportunity during his career to participate in designing a new organization. Many experienced business architects see their role as designing the strategy execution process and I would agree that this use of business architecture as design is appropriate.

Business leaders don’t use the term “architecture” or “blueprint”. This presents business architects with the significant challenge of describing what they do in business terms and somehow relate that description to the architecture term. I hear from many business architects that this is their biggest struggle. If that is true, then why not change the definition.

Here is the definition I use. (Reminder, I am NOT promoting this as THE definition of business architecture nor am I recommending that you use this definition. I am simply using this definition as a catalyst to help you think differently about what business architecture is.)

Business architecture is an approach to clarifying, elaborating, and illuminating an organization’s business strategy and operating models in a way that creates new insights, broader perspectives, and deeper understanding of how the organization as a whole creates value and that drives more strategic and collaborative decision making. It provides a structured, disciplined approach to translate strategic intent into focused, effective action by:

• Clarifying strategic intent and translating it into consumable elements that target investments to the work that is essential to the outcomes we desire.
• Creating a holistic, common understanding of business operations that can be used to design a responsive and agile organization.
• Building a repeatable idea-to-initiatives process which dramatically increases the organization’s change velocity.

The ultimate goal of business architecture is to unlock organizational capacity.

What is YOUR definition of business architecture?

How do you define/describe business architecture? Please post your thoughts or send me a note.

The bottom line:_________________________________________________________________

Creating a business architecture definition that your business leaders will resonate with should be the first order of business for new business architecture teams. The important thing is to define what we do, not what we produce.


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