When I was young, I loved jigsaw puzzles; the picture on the top of the box of some far away destination mesmerized me. The hours spent finding the straight pieces denoting the border of the jigsaw, and then constantly referring to the lid of the box to see where these pieces fitted into the big picture was a challenge that I loved to complete. Thinking back to those days, it was probably the basis for my fixation with wanting to know how things fitted together, and would later in life lead to me investigating how organizations were put together in a profitable manner.
My first work mentor had an irritating habit of continuously asking “why” and only later in my career did I realize that this was one of the life lessons I needed to understand as part of my business architecture journey. The fundamental question for business architects is in fact the question “why” and without understanding the motivation behind business objectives and strategies any solutioning becomes a hit and miss affair for other architectural domains.
Some of my first forays into business strategy and planning were greeted with comments akin to, ‘Architecture is an IT role’ and when attending IT meetings, I was greeted with, ‘business architecture is about the business not IT’. So it has been my pleasure to spend 25 years of my career bringing both of those parties to the realization that they were both incorrect. Business architecture acts as a Rosetta Stone to assist with the translation of organizational hieroglyphics between business and IT executives.
The Business Dilemma
Perhaps Lewis Carroll said it best in a quote from Alice in Wonderland:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?"
"That depends a good deal on where you want to get to."
"I don't much care where –"
"Then it doesn't matter which way you go.”
Today executives must match the pace of digital disruption, quickly adapting business and operating models, to accommodate regulatory requirements and ever increasing customer demands for cost effective product accessibility, all the while ensuring cyber security and data privacy. These demands placed within complex and challenging local and global environments are placing a burden on executives to address market competitiveness at a reduced cost to income ratio, whilst continuing to deliver shareholder value.
Most of today’s c-suite executives rose to the top due to their expertise and qualifications within a certain subject matter. Very few are capable of “big picture” thinking and therefore struggle to fend off startups that have the advantage of starting from scratch on a blank canvas. Current strategy exercises produce mission statements such as, we need a digital presence. When questioned on the ‘why’ the typical answer would be, ‘everyone is going digital’, but the solution is not only a digital solution. What products will be offered on this digital platform? What support skills are required? Do we have these skills in-house – if not, how long until we can on-board the required skills? What processes will be impacted? What impact will this initiative have on cost to income ratio? All of these questions are critical for the creation of a comprehensive overview of the transformation business case and roadmap.
However, without an overview of the current organizational capability maturity to meet a proposed transformation and an in-depth scoping exercise, the executives will be at a loss as to what portfolios / projects should be initiated to meet the demand. This is where business architecture comes into its own and provides the translation of business initiatives into underlying capabilities and maturity level. Moreover, reporting on duplication of effort within the project creates potential cost savings across the organization by means of a service architecture: ‘create once, used by many’.
The results of this exercise provide direction for PMO, DevOps and architectural domain teams’ work packages, ensuring a coordinated approach to design, development and implementation of the business requirements. The exercise is also a major input into dashboard creation for executives, which enables proactive decision making across both vertical and horizontal components of the organization.
It is essential that the architect ensures the repository tracks developments to keep the current state, transition state and desired state in synch, ensuring correct data for reporting purposes. Ultimately, business architecture is the key part of the puzzle, and without it the entire strategy of the organization begins to fall apart.