Business Architecture: Leveraged in Strategic IT Planning

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Business Architect Executive, Independent Consultant
Mr. Balmes is a Senior Business Architect and Change Management Consultant with a natural talent for improving business effectiveness by integrating Business Architecture into the enterprise. He employs expert skills from more than 25 years of domestic and international experience with well-studied, proven approaches for evaluating business effectiveness and ensuring alignment between IT and the business. Mr. Balmes can be reached at

Considering the forum in which this article is published, I think it is safe to say that anyone reading it already knows the value of Business Architecture. I hope we also share the opinion that the IT Architecture is secondary to the Business Architecture: the business is the driver, not IT.

That is nice theory, but it hasn’t been reality for quite some time. New technology trends emerge, people with an eye for technology see the benefits, and they sell the idea of implementing the new technology based on those benefits. All too often, however, they do not accurately consider the applicability of the new technology to the business.

Strategy: Let’s Start at the Beginning

Business executives have a vision. Even if it is not articulated well, or framed and hung on the wall in the break room, they have a vision. They also have a strategy to achieve that vision. It may not be fully documented, or use an industry standard methodology with clearly defined imperatives, but they have a strategy in mind. The executives know that to achieve their vision, they must penetrate certain markets, they must appeal to a certain customer base, and they must invest in their products, services, people, processes, and technology. But what must those investments be? As architects, it is our job to know the vision and define investments that will “operationalize” the strategy.

Notice that I refer to us generically as “architects,” with no distinction between business and technical architects. That is because at this point in the process, we are equals. The “business” has spoken in the form of a strategy. Every business unit must now embrace that strategy and begin its respective business planning to support it. And for anyone who has not noticed, IT is just another business unit.

Business Planning: Defining the Portfolio of Investments

To say that all of the business units, including IT, must now start their planning seems contradictory to my earlier statement that the business is the driver and IT is secondary. That statement suggests a linear approach. However, in this day and age, there is no time for a linear approach.

As the core processes in the Functional Architecture are reevaluated to determine in which processes to invest, the technical infrastructure is reevaluated to determine in which technologies to invest, and the need to rationalize the technical Application Architecture is exposed. As specific, cross-organizational processes are selected for improvement, potential services in which to invest begin to emerge. As demonstrated here, this is not linear at all. It is a well coordinated definition of potential investments, specifically designed to achieve the business strategy.

The set of investments then goes before some sort of governance board responsible for selecting and managing the investment portfolio. Once the set of new investments is defined, two concurrent business processes are executed: While the selected investments go through the requisite funding gates, each business unit, including IT, establishes its business plan.

The funding gates are a simple stage-gating process. Once a business unit has made its case for a particular investment, “gating” begins. The first gate is the proof of concept (POC), whereby enough funding is made available to conduct a POC. If the results of the POC are acceptable, funding is made available for development. (Whether you’re developing a new process, product, or service, it is still development.) And, if development goes according to plan, and that which is developed is acceptable, funding is made available for deployment. This is a sound and well established model for funding new investments. Please notice that “approving” an investment does not necessarily mean that it will be “funded” all the way to deployment.

As for the business plans, each business unit knows how much it spends on new investments and how much it must spend on “business-as-usual.” The business units must now set forth a plan to incorporate those new investments into their respective pieces of the business. The investments include all aspects of the business. As such, their respective plans must demonstrate how they will manage those investments internally and how they will manage the inherent change.

Business Management: Did Our Investments Pay Off?

Now it is time to follow through. It is not enough to know the vision, understand the strategy, effectively select and fund investments, and carve out a plan. “Follow-through” is the governance structure put in place to monitor all aspects of the business.

When the case is made for an investment, it includes potential business benefits and quantifies business value. This applies to all investments: Processes are measurable, technology captures and reports the measurements, and products are deployed with an outcome in mind. The governance structure monitors the effects of the investments on the business as they are deployed.

It is necessary to monitor the effects of new investments with the defined targets in mind. Always monitor the day-to-day aspects of the business to ensure that that which is not supposed to change, doesn’t. Compare these metrics to the plan and make subtle adjustments regularly; do not assume that because everything is well defined and a good plan is in place that there won’t be adjustments. Evaluate the overall portfolio performance quarterly. Use the outcome of these reviews to make cross-organizational adjustments to business plans semi-annually. Feed this information into the annual review process to make necessary changes to the overall strategy.

So what about Strategic IT Planning?

So where is Strategic IT Planning in this whole article? Read back through the piece and notice that everything that applies to the business, applies to IT. After all, IT is part of the business. IT must know the vision; IT must understand the strategy; IT must leverage the business architecture; and IT must make and monitor investments like any other part of the business.

This is where we realize that we are not “aligning” IT with the business, we are including IT in the business. We are not “business-driven” because the business is “leading” IT. We are business-driven because we realize that every business function enables the other business functions. And as such, we know that every business function must operate within the framework of the business architecture, including IT.

Organizational Change Management remains the final step in any planning effort. Every investment, whether in process, product or technology, represents a change to the business. Use formal change management to ensure that the implementation of the selected investments does not exceed the organization’s capacity to change.


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