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The science (and art) of business architecture, and why government needs it

By James McPhillips - 27 February 2018 0
cordelta business architecture canberra

Get clarity with good business architecture. Photo: Supplied.

Let’s face it. Enterprise architecture’s sister discipline, business architecture, has a ‘hit and miss’ reputation in this town. Why? Because it’s often not user-friendly enough to be quickly absorbed and understood by the business. This is especially true in government, where outputs are rarely measured in terms of return on investment and profit and loss.

It generally plays out like this: architects start modelling away, engaging with stakeholders and capturing data. But while their hearts are in the right place, they get lost in the left-brain minutia of the metamodel. They forget that architecture is a tool to be communicated, not an intellectual exercise to be presented once to a room full of C-Level executives, and then shelved.

It’s very easy to forget the true purpose of modelling a business: to help an organisation understand itself enough to make good decisions about its future.

Architecture initiatives should be pragmatic and user-friendly, with this discrete purpose in mind. Otherwise, it’s a wasteful exercise in over-engineering and navel-gazing.

Enter the discipline of business architecture: 50% science, 50% art, 100% awesome.

Enough preamble… This three-article series is a business architecture crash course that addresses three questions:

  1. What is business architecture?
  2. Why do we need it?
  3. How do we use it?

And we’ll answer them by taking you on the business architecture journey.

Let’s begin!

What is business architecture?

Google to the rescue:

Business architecture is defined as “a blueprint of the enterprise that provides a common understanding of the organisation and is used to align strategic objectives and tactical demands.”

In normal-speak, business architecture helps an organisation – like a government department – understand what it is, why it exists, how it delivers value, and how it can continually adapt and improve with its evolving ecosystem.

Pretty simple, right? Conceptually it’s pretty easy to understand. So why, then, is it so hard for organisations to get this view of themselves?

The answer lies in complexity. The more complex an organisation, the more moving parts it has, the more ways it delivers value, the harder it is to gain a cohesive understanding. One that’s enough to make good investment decisions.

Business architecture is a science

Business architects design experiments to test hypotheses, using qualitative and quantitative data to help a business:

  • Align strategic objectives with portfolio investment decisions;
  • Inform the operating model of the entire organisation, or specific functional areas;
  • Visualise how the organisation delivers value and achieves outcomes;
  • Understand what capabilities the organisation needs to deliver value and achieve outcomes;
  • Understand how users participate in business activities and interact with capabilities;
  • Conceptualise business impact and proactively plan for change.

This is where the all the workshops, data modelling tools, value maps and user personas come into play. The nuts and bolts science of the discipline. The meat and potatoes.

All of this is great. But where the discipline truly shines is in how business architecture is delivered back to the organisation. Its value lies in how the key decision makers on-board, understand and use the architecture to get everyone in the organisation on the same page.

Business architecture is also about taking the organisation on a journey. The journey of understanding what a business is, does, and needs to do, is more than half the battle. And to do this, we need to make the leap from science to art!

Business architecture is an art form

Good business architecture is about more than just hypotheses and empirical data. It’s about communication and influence. It is as much about the accuracy of business architecture models and products themselves, as it is about the personalities and techniques of the architects delivering them.

In fact, the soft-skills intertwined with the narrative storytelling techniques inherent to business architecture are often neglected in the minds of many architects, in favour of high-fidelity data at any cost.

Better to have a tool that stakeholders understand, buy into, and use to make decisions, than something that’s 100% technically excellent at a particular point in time, but delivered so poorly and in isolation that it sits on a shelf, gathering dust.

So what?

Government agencies have it extremely tough. They’re complex beasts, and they’re also some of the most difficult organisations to model from an architecture perspective. Their remits and capabilities are so diverse and susceptible to change that the end products or services delivered to the public are often difficult to articulate – both internally to staff, and externally to users.

This problem is what makes business architecture so valuable for C-Level executives to make strategic decisions, whilst simultaneously painting the picture for teams to buy-in to the organisations overarching purpose and vision. Good business architecture is not just about accuracy, but utility and reuse within the organisation.

In part two of this series, we’ll dive deeper into the “why” of business architecture. We’ll look under the hood of business architecture, and at its key use-cases from the primary beneficiaries’ perspective: the C-Level executives who have all the power and make all of the hard choices.

To find out more about Cordelta’s business architecture services and how they can help your organisation, Contact us today.

James McPhillips is a consultant at Cordelta, a Canberra professional and management services firm.

This is a sponsored article, though all opinions are the author’s own. For more information on paid content, see our sponsored content policy.

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