The Business Architecture Center of Excellence

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President, TSG, Inc.
William Ulrich is President of TSG, Inc. and a strategic planning consultant specializing in business / IT alignment. He has worked with numerous large corporations and government agencies in the area of business / IT alignment. Mr. Ulrich has written several books and published hundreds of articles. His latest book is Business Architecture: The Art and Practice of Business Transformation. Mr. Ulrich is a Former Editorial Director of and Co-founder of the Business Architecture Guild and an advisor to the Penn State Enterprise Architecture Advisory Group.

BPM StrategiesBusiness architecture enables an enterprise to turn business strategy into operational reality through the visualization and resolution of cross-functional inefficiencies and ineffectiveness. Consider the following scenario found in a US federal government agency. Duplicate business processes, across multiple service areas, resulted in similar yet inconsistent data being produced by redundant desktop environments. Accountants who built and use those desktop systems never met their counterparts to compare requirements or understand the duplication of effort.

IT was the recipient of this inconsistent data, which was arrived at in different ways and derived from similar yet inconsistent business processes. This problem rippled through the agency because no one had a holistic view of the situation and no one was chartered to address it. The processes had been independently modeled, but never reconciled. A business architecture center of excellence (COE) should be established to address these kinds of challenges, which have been proliferated across a typical enterprise hundreds or thousands of times.

Business Architecture Requires Holistic Approach

The above scenario makes it clear that individual business units cannot address these issues because their view is limited to processes and data within that unit. In addition, IT cannot solve cross-functional business issues. In the above example, IT was deploying a system to address backend data issues, but could do nothing to reconcile redundant, inconsistent business processes, desktop environments or resulting data.

With no formal vehicle for synchronizing business architecture from a cross-functional perspective, business architects are trapped in isolated silos or inside of IT Architecture teams. This is problematic for multiple reasons. Business data and value streams cross divisional and business unit boundaries. Business architecture visualization, reconciliation and alignment must do likewise and, therefore, requires a holistic, cross-functional perspective.

In addition, business architecture should not be driven by self-serving masters. In cases where a business unit drives an initiative, benefits are constrained to that unit. In cases where IT drives the work, benefits will be IT oriented – not business oriented. The overall benefits are constrained by the needs and view of the initiating team.

Business units must collaborate as equal partners to tackle redundancy, inconsistency and related issues. This requires a center of excellence based on a collaborative governance model capable of coalescing common requirements and addressing infrastructure inefficiencies and ineffectiveness from a holistic, enterprise perspective.

Key Functions and Deliverables

In order to gain executive sponsorship and funding for the COE, business architects must clearly articulate the value the COE delivers. The following list outlines key COE functions and deliverables.

  • Enable collaboration across business units to ensure consistency and integration of value stream, business data and governance models.
  • Provide a governance framework that enables open participation
    from every business unit, business partner, IT and other key
  • Establish modeling paradigms, related technologies and a
    methodology to enable collaborative business modeling.
  • Provide a clear mapping between business models and IT modeling
    paradigms that can be used to clearly communicate business
    requirements to IT.
  • Create a focal point where business strategy can be translated
    into operational reality.

The above responsibilities must be crystallized within a COE constitution that includes an overall governance structure as to how the COE will function.

Governance Structure

Creating a sustainable, successful business architecture COE challenges traditional command and control thinking. Organizations have found in practice that business unit stakeholders must collaborate on cross-disciplinary business architecture initiatives. To meet this goal, the COE must be built upon a collaborative, versus traditional command and control, governance structure.

There has been a wealth of organizational work done on collaborative governance. Organizations based on collaborative governance models are bound by a common purpose, shared principles, clear role definitions and organizational model. A shared purpose immediately communicates what the COE is there to do. Consider the following sample purpose for the business architecture COE.

  • Provide a functional environment in which cross-functional, crossdiscipline business architecture work may be pursued as a way of reducing organizational inefficiency and ineffectiveness.

Organizations will want to craft their own purpose after forming the COE. Likewise, a set of common principles provide a descriptive, as opposed to prescriptive, set of principles to guide their actions. Consider the following sample COE principles.

  • Participation is open to all business unit stakeholders with an interest in furthering the purpose of the COE.
  • No individual business unit will dominate the work of the COE.
  • All models, ideas, concepts and plans are open to all participants
    unless this violates confidentiality or security.
  • Third parties may participate where they are a business unit stakeholder, where it furthers COE purpose and where it does not breach confidentiality or security.

The above principles represent a small subset of potential principles, but hopefully they communicate the concept. The COE will need to establish clear roles as well. Role examples are summarized as follows.

  • Core team roles would include coordinator, business modeling specialist, methodologist, tool coordinator, facilitator and others roles as required.
  • Virtual roles would include stakeholders from each business unit, subunit, IT and third parties as applicable within a given enterprise.

Participants can take rotational roles of some duration with the overall goal of having no permanent participants. This would keep the ideas fresh but require close adherence to the constitution. Organizationally, the COE should be established as a functional unit that is not dominated by any given business unit or IT executive as this would conflict with the core purpose and principles.

One option is to not have the COE report to anyone. A true collaborative structure could be established by the stakeholders that would allow them to govern themselves. Each individual would continue to report up through the business unit hierarchy. Most companies would prohibit this governance model, but there is a history of success for this concept.

Most enterprises are currently inclined towards having the business architecture COE report to a nonaligned, high-level executive. This could be a corporate CEO, an agency director or a strategic planning team that reports to such an individual. This would ensure adherence to the principle of not having an individual business unit dominate the COE. Whichever direction is taken, the business architecture center of excellence requires collaborative thinking to meets its goals.

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