Business Architecture: Turning Strategy into Actionable Results

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Author(s)

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 BAInstitute.org and Co-founder of the Business Architecture Guild and an advisor to the Penn State Enterprise Architecture Advisory Group.

Executives have mandated that the organization deploy new strategies while getting more productivity from its workforce. This requires business unit consolidation, alternative market exploration, new product and service deployment, and a myriad of other actions. These activities, in turn, spawn a demand for infrastructure upgrades and technology redeployment. Unfortunately, the gap between strategy and actionable results is growing. Business architecture provides a way to close this gap and enable cross-functional, cross-discipline collaboration that is essential to articulating and implementing strategic business requirements.

Visualizing Business Roadblocks is Critical First Step

For decades, executives, consultants, academics and pundits have declared that business strategy must be communicated and deployed at every level of the enterprise. Yet segregated business units, with poorly integrated, highly redundant functions and infrastructures, suffer from institutionalized inefficiency and ineffectiveness. These challenges, along with ways to address them, have not been articulated to senior management.

Too often, management in individual business units cannot see that they are duplicating or competing with other business units. Even if they were aware of the situation, there is no effective vehicle for exposing these issues to senior executives. The only portion of the organization forced to confront cross-functional redundancy and inconsistency is IT. Architectural modeling efforts inevitably stumble across these issues. But IT does not have the ability or authority to address these issues.

Redundant, inconsistently defined functions, processes, data and systems across organizational stovepipes are a major roadblock to the delivery of strategic requirements. However, the individuals that can address this issue cannot visualize the situation and those that can visualize the situation have no authority to do address it.

Business / IT Collaboration is Key to Addressing the Challenge

Attempting to deploy new strategies across organizational and technological stovepipes is very difficult. Consider three billing centers, across three regions, supported by three legacy billing systems. Shifting to a more customer centric billing environment would minimally be three times the challenge. Addressing situations like this must begin by exposing the business architecture and creating a plan to address inherent weaknesses in a holistic way versus patchwork approaches used in the past.

Well articulated business architecture can expose functional redundancy, delineate authority, clarify roles and responsibilities, feed alignment plans and articulate business requirements to IT. This last point is particularly relevant to strategy deployment.

One recently interviewed business unit director lamented that “when she was in IT, business and IT personnel worked collaboratively on a day-to-day basis.” This is rarely the case today. Business units and IT are, at best, not communicating effectively and, at worst, working at cross purposes. With businesses locked into aging information architectures that have institutionalized business unit segregation, the inability for business and IT to collaborate negates the most well conceived strategy.

Business Architecture: A Rosetta Stone for Business & IT

This situation must change. Business managers say that IT will not listen to or address their requirements. IT says the business cannot articulate its requirements. It is time to define a common vocabulary that the business can use to articulate and deploy strategy and communicate requirements to IT.

One might argue that this already exists in the form of UML, BPM and business rule tools. But in reality, UML is an IT specification paradigm that is too technical for business analysts. BPM and business rule specification methods and tools are also technically slanted and suffer from a granularity challenge.

Further, even if these tools were “business friendly”, they represent fragments of the big picture and are ill-suited to envisioning and correcting holistic business challenges. Business units require intuitive representations that can be used to represent the business and IT architecture as a whole, visualize organizational and functional alignment, and serve as a facility to realign the organization while providing a way to articulate requirements to IT.

Business architecture requires visualization paradigms and supporting tooling. While many representations can be displayed in tools like Visio, more sophisticated tooling is required to integrate business terminology and functionality with evolving requirements. Fortunately, these capabilities are emerging. The representations, disciplines and tooling needed to facilitate the visualization and alignment of business architecture will benefit businesses and IT alike. It is essential to meeting the challenges ahead.

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