Is the Business Architecture Really Necessary?

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Enterprise Business Architect, Independent Consultant
Ralph Whittle is co-author of a book titled, Enterprise Business Architecture: The Formal Link between Strategy and Results, CRC Press 2004. He is a Strategic Business/IT Consultant and subject matter expert in Enterprise Business Architecture development and implementation. He has built Enterprise Business Architectures in various industries, such as manufacturing, healthcare, financial, and technology. He has worked in the IT industry for over 26 years, conducting engagements in enterprise business process modeling, strategic/tactical business planning, enterprise business requirements analysis, enterprise business architecture and IT architecture integration, strategic frameworks integration with systems development methodologies and IT service offering enhancement. He is a co-inventor of a patented Strategic Business/IT Planning framework.

While attendance, interest and participation in the Business Architecture (BA) conferences are increasing, the attendees are asking a very fair and tough question: Is the Business Architecture really necessary? While seeking to understand and analyze the purpose of a Business Architecture, they are also asking about its necessity. Instead of just debating this issue, let’s try a couple of experiments and look at the results!

Let’s say you are the CEO of a mid-cap company. If you ask your senior executives to come to your office with a model of the enterprise, what do you think they will bring?  It is a safe bet that each will present a different model or view of the enterprise. For example, the COO may present on an operational model, the CIO may talk about the technology model and the CFO may discuss a financial model. Most assuredly, each will present accurate information, and compliment each discussion with a rich and descriptive dialogue. Perhaps each will present some different view of the enterprise, just as in the famous children’s story of “the blind men describing the elephant.”

Consider the content of their presentations and materials. More than likely, beyond the attractive high-level marketing or sales type slides, there is very little useful substance available for research, analysis, and design. Any models, graphical representations or architectures that are presented are probably out of date, poorly integrated, unavailable to the typical business and IT manager, and consequently are seldom used or exploited when undertaking a major new strategic initiative.

If each executive were to posts their particular model on the wall, it is doubtful that the models would illustrate relationships with one another. The verbal descriptions might explain the relationships, but unless the conversations are recorded, most is lost after the presentation since the relationships are not captured in the model. The CEO could never glean an understanding of the enterprise or a strategic initiative under review by simply analyzing the models on the wall and not listening to the presentations.  The models are probably not consistent, not integrated and not rich enough in semantics and syntax to precisely understand their meaning.

If you are a leader of a strategic initiative rather than the CEO, consider a similar experiment! Bring together the various functional organizations participating in your strategic initiative and ask their functional leaders to present a model of the enterprise! Most likely, you will find “more blind men describing the elephant!” If you do not believe this, then just try one of these experiments for real, and see what happens!  I predict you will find “little substance beyond the show!”

Realizing the results of the experiments mentioned above, maybe you need to ask a few questions when considering the Business Architecture!  Is it necessary for the senior executives and leaders to have a commonly shared model and view of the enterprise when analyzing strategic initiatives and their priorities? What is the cost of not having a commonly shared model and what is the impact on initiative effectiveness and efficiency? Were any failed strategic initiatives the result of not having a commonly shared model or might their failure been avoided with the insight and understanding found using a Business Architecture? These are not simple and easy to answer questions!

The enterprise is a complex and complicated entity. One can not accurately represent this intricacy in three or four colorful slides in a sales presentation. It takes an “engineering type” model, defined with rigor and discipline. Furthermore, viewing the enterprise solely in terms of its functions and organizations is too limited and lacks an understanding of causality. If you make significant changes in one functional activity of a core process in the enterprise, you need to understand what will happen to other related core processes. Limiting your analysis to just one or two separate functions may result in unpredictable consequences in other functional areas or failure to meet performance expectations. If functional performance is optimized, most likely, overall enterprise performance is sub optimized.

For example, the “original design” of the fuselage, wing and tail of the first supersonic jet interceptor was not fully integrated for supersonic flight. The engineers considered the supersonic shock wave on independent parts, rather than on the jet as a whole. When test flown, it was a dismal failure whose performance did not come close to meeting design requirements. It required an “integrated redesign” of the fuselage, wing and tail, along with a more powerful engine to achieve the desired supersonic speeds.

A well defined and understood architecture of the business is a valuable tool for supporting any strategic initiative. It significantly improves communication between cross functional teams. The BA provides a complete and holistic view of the enterprise, far more than provided by a couple of functions, key organizations or independent processes. It enables the analysis of causality, providing the ability to see how and where other core processes are impacted and what results the strategic initiative will have on the whole enterprise.  It sees the enterprise in terms of what it produces and delivers to its customers, an understanding not available if viewed functionally. These are important and necessary for corporate success.

One may still argue that a Business Architecture is not necessary. After all, we have not had a BA in the past, so why do we need one in the future! Staying put is always more comfortable and easy to do.  However, if you are looking at strategic initiatives that will succeed, deliver predictable results and provide a competitive advantage, then one just might conclude that the Business Architecture is a new corporate necessity for supersonic performance.

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