What’s Up With Business Architecture Vendors?

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

Business architecture teams are making significant inroads by providing business executives with the organizational transparency required to diagnose and take on critical business challenges. As business architects continue to collect, organize, aggregate and visualize cross-functional, cross-disciplinary business knowledge, they require a business architecture knowledgebase. Best practices have provided business architects with templates for establishing the business architecture knowledgebase, but the vendor community has not stepped up to support its deployment. What is going on within the business architecture vendor community and when can we expect to see them deliver business architecture solutions?

The current state of vendor support for business architecture is limited from several perspectives. The most noticeable limitation is in perception. Enterprise architecture (EA) tool vendors have the ability to represent business artifacts within their EA tool repositories. These artifacts include business capabilities; organizational units; projects; strategies and tactics; semantic structures; suppliers, partners and customers; assets; and business processes. Yet these vendors rarely promote themselves as supporting business architecture. The concept of business architecture is missing from their marketing materials, websites and white papers. This varies by vendor, but there has been little effort to market solutions to business architecture teams – particularly those teams residing within the business.

The second limitation these vendors have involves packaging. On one project, we used a standard enterprise architecture tool to deploy a business architecture knowledgebase. This required stripping away hundreds of extraneous, IT architecture objects from the repository. We also had to rename several artifacts, add missing artifacts and rework certain relationships to create a viable, business architecture metamodel. Some of this work is expected, but this vendor had no default view for business architecture within its repository – and this is the norm. The least customers should expect with regard to business architecture tooling is the availability of a starter kit metamodel for business architects within the vendor’s enterprise architecture repository. Vendors could even create a stripped down tool and market it just to business architects.

The most glaring weakness among the vendor community is the lack of visualization capabilities within these the tools. The most common tools for building visualizations of the business architecture are PowerPoint, Visio and, sadly, Excel. These analyst created views of the business are disconnected from the business architecture knowledgebase, require many hours to build, are difficult to maintain and impossible to keep synchronized with related views of the business. The output of the current crop of EA tools today is Excel-like. For example, when we loaded our business artifacts into a customized version of an EA tool, we could only produce cross-reference reports.

These cross-reference reports are useful for planning teams because they provide valuable insights into the relationships among various business artifacts and can be extended to support business architecture / IT architecture mapping. Unfortunately, there was no way to reproduce the capability models, balance scorecards, social networking diagrams or other diagrams that the executive team and their managers required. These business architecture visualizations, along with a set of emerging business templates, had to be produced in PowerPoint and Visio. Interestingly, the cross-reference reports provided by these high-end tools can be easily produced using a standard database or even MS Access – which is useful in the absence of an EA tool.

The vendor community has challenges and opportunities. Practitioners of business architecture are outpacing the vendor community in terms of the work being done in practice. On the one hand, it is useful to have a window of time where best practices can be coalesced into standards for the vendor community. The OMG Business Architecture Special Interest Group is working on these standards and a few vendors are participating in this effort. On the other hand, it would be nice to see the vendor community put a little more energy into visibly supporting business architecture.

We anticipate that business architecture vendors will engage more vigorously with the business architecture community in the coming year. One simple step would be the creation of a low-end, business architecture starter kit tool that could be made available to business architecture teams. Such a tool would provide customized views of the tool repository and customized reports for business. In addition, vendors could begin work on the top 2-3 most commonly used visualizations within business architecture. Metrics, business / IT architecture mapping and other features could quickly follow.

While the vendors catch up, it is important for business architecture teams, particularly those based within the business community and outside of the IT architecture domain, to continue to ask for more customized repositories, improved visualizations capabilities and a general sense of direction as to how these vendors plan to evolve there tools to support business architecture going forward. The vendors will get there and business architecture teams need to be ready when they arrive.

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