Business Architecture: Status Quo or Game Changer?

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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.

We frequently debate the question of who owns business architecture, but this question hides a more fundamental issue that can dramatically impact the value proposition of business architecture. Motivation and intent will ultimately determine if business architecture is a “game changer” or just another management discipline delivering incremental improvements to the status quo.

Which path you take depends on how you answer two basic questions. Are you leveraging business architecture to address business priorities, facilitate strategic planning, deliver customer value, leverage investments in major initiatives and deploy horizontal solutions across your enterprise? Or, are you using business architecture as one more way to improve how IT gathers business requirements?

How you answer these questions determines if you will derive the real potential value from business architecture or if it ends up on the dust heap of incremental management techniques. IT-centered business architecture teams have a tendency to focus almost exclusively on using business architecture to derive or fine tune business requirements for IT projects. Improving IT’s ability to discern business requirements is certainly a worthwhile goal because the misinterpretation of business requirements is traditionally cited as the number one reason for project failures by Standish Group. Yet if this is the overriding driver for business architecture in your enterprise, it will result in a dramatic underutilization of this powerful discipline.

The business architecture team’s viewpoint has a direct influence on motivation and intent. Due to being increasingly isolated from the business, IT views the business from the outside in. This is similar to peering into a house through prism-like windows. Much of the inside of the house is hidden from view and what we do see is a distortion of reality. IT professionals who do not live and work within the business may feel that they have a good handle on what the business needs. This is rarely the case. As a result, IT-driven solutions emerge that have little impact on a wide variety of business priorities. Subsequent requirements derivation efforts for these ill-conceived initiatives are merely fruit of the same poison tree. It does not matter how well you gather requirements when the solution itself is off the mark.

Leveraging business architecture from a business-centered perspective, on the other hand, provides immediate insights into the limitations of the IT-centered approach. As business executives evaluate current and future portfolio investments, business architecture provides the analysis needed to determine where major initiatives are working in coordination, isolation or cross-purposes with other initiatives. In addition, business architecture provides business executives with insights into whether major funded initiatives are focused on direct and immediate resolution of top business priorities.

This type of introspective analysis is unlikely to originate within IT because the assumption is that all IT initiatives are targeting business priorities. Yet business-based, business architecture teams have found that major IT initiatives are not always focused on delivering direct and immediate relief to top business priorities. This in turn triggers business executives to ask what should be done to address priority business issues. Fortunately, the business-based, business architecture team is in a good position to answer this question, particularly when they engage IT as an equal partner in this analysis.

The good news for IT and for the business is that when business priorities drive business architecture, the benefits to IT are much more far reaching. For example, ensuring that funded initiatives are truly business-driven means that funding will come more readily, business support for the effort will be ongoing and the enterprise as a whole will be engaged in the solution. In addition, cross-functional business issues will be surfaced and vetted by the business architecture team prior to asking IT to come up with five different versions of the target architecture.

Can a business-centric view of business architecture be established when IT owns business architecture? In my opinion, continued IT ownership of business architecture will lead to more IT-centric positioning of business architecture goals and activities. The direct and immediate focus of business architecture on addressing top business priorities is difficult to achieve when IT owns business architecture. One major challenge is that business steering committees and planning teams do not view IT-based architects as change agents. These same business steering committees do, however, engage business-based, business architecture teams to assist with analysis of critical business issues and strategy development.

There is a growing movement to center business architecture within the business, fueled by a frustrated business community realizing that it can no longer fully abdicate ownership of all architectural responsibilities to IT. Business architecture deployment at any given organization, however, could be stymied if business architecture is viewed as just one more IT panacea. What will happen at your organization? Will business architecture be viewed as just one more arrow in the quiver of IT, or will it be viewed by business executives as a game changer for the enterprise?

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