How do I make money, in my business? What’s my own business-model?
That was part of a follow-on to my previous post on ‘What do we mean by ‘business-architecture’?‘, in a great phone-conversation with a colleague last night, who challenged me to describe my own business-model and business-architecture.
To him, he said, a business-model is a kind of one-line summary about how a business makes money. (A commercial business, obviously: the business-model for a government department or non-profit is somewhat different, but it comes to much the same in the end, he said, because everyone is selling something… ) The Osterwalder-style concept of a ‘business-model’ is therefore not a business-model as such, he said, but more a model of how to action that business-model. The example he gave was of an airline: they make money by selling seats in aircraft flights, and earning more than they spend in doing so. The business-architecture then describes the detail of how they action that business-model.
Dunno that I would agree with that definition of ‘business-model’, but it is a definition, for sure, and clearly one that works for some business-architects. And a good challenge, too: how do I ‘make money’ in my own business?
The problem for me is that I just don’t see it that way. To me it’s all the wrong round: I’m more interested in the overall enterprise, and ‘making money’ is kind of peripheral to that – almost a distraction, in some ways, little more than a means to continue that engagement in the enterprise. Charles Handy put it well, in one of his books [approximate quote, from memory]:
Saying that we’re in business to ‘make money’ is like saying we play cricket to get a good batting average. It’s true we need a good batting-average to keep playing in first-class cricket, but the batting-average itself isn’t the purpose of the game.
To me, the enterprise comes first: in this case, the enterprise of enterprise-architecture, its relationships with all the subsidiary domain-architectures, and how best to get them all working together in real-world practice. That’s the real focus. So to be blunt, I don’t have good description of my own ‘business-model’, in my colleague’s sense. I write books and blog-posts, I work with people, I go to conferences, I think a lot about a lot of different things, try to make sense of how all those things work, how they could work together, and work better. That’s what I do. But the money side? It happens, I suppose – it’s not particularly important. In practice there’s always just enough to keep me going in doing all of that, and that’s really all that it needs to be. The simplest summary is that I’m always working, and occasionally someone pays me: that’s about it, really.
I know that to some people that’ll sound more than a bit odd, so perhaps I can best illustrate it by a poster I saw a few years ago, for an energy-company back in Australia:
One of those huge freeway billboards, showing a football stadium at night, brightly floodlit. Everyone’s intense on the game, going on just out-of shot.
Everyone, that is, except for one guy standing up, in the middle of the seating, dressed in yellow rain-slickers, facing the other way, staring up at the lights.
The caption: “We’re excited about electricity, even if you’re not”.
The point there being that, yes, most of the time, most people aren’t especially interested in electricity – they’re much more interested in the football, or some other equivalent. But – to paraphrase Chris Potts’ insightful aphorism again – when their experiences do touch on a need for electricity, it probably would be a good idea to talk with that company that says it’s “excited about electricity”. That’s the focus of that shared-enterprise: it may well be that the prospective client and the company share that enterprise for only a brief while, but they do share it in that moment – again, to paraphrase Chris, the company appears in the customer’s experiences because electricity is the current focus of their attention. And yes, no doubt there’ll be money-concerns appearing in there somewhere, somewhen: but electricity itself is what comes first here, in that shared-enterprise – and needs to come first, too.
In a sense, I’m much the same. I’m excited about enterprise-architecture, even if you’re not. Could well be kinda boring, to most people, most of the time: not as interesting as football, anyway – or ‘making money’, of course. Yet when your experiences do touch on enterprise-architecture, I’m probably a good person to come and talk with for a while. Simple as that, really.
So when would you want to come talk with someone who’s ‘excited about enterprise-architecture’? Well, I often describe myself as a ‘toolmaker’ – someone who creates custom-tools (if often of a more conceptual kind) for enterprise-architectures and the like. Most of my consultancy work tends not to be in developing an enterprise-architecture as such, but in helping internal teams develop their own enterprise-architectures – hence I work in practice-refresh, in helping a team lift themselves to the next level of architecture-maturity, and so on. Hence also describing all of that in books, in blog-posts, in conference-presentations – though if you want something custom-built for your own specific context, you’d more likely come to me direct. I deliberately don’t have much predefined product to ‘sell’, because so much of what I do needs to be custom-created for each specific context – though that again often makes it hard to say exactly what is that I do. And, yes, occasionally someone pays for doing this: and I’ll have to admit that that is good when that happens – if only because it tells me that they do value my work, in a monetary sense at least. Getting paid does help to keep me going in the game, of course: yet it isn’t why I’m in this game.
And that’s the simplest summary, really: the enterprise that I work in is enterprise-architecture; I’m always working; and occasionally someone pays me. It’s not complicated, not ‘clever’, it’s just what it is: nothing more than that. If you need to know my business-model, that’s it. Enough said?
So what’s your own business-model, then? Why do you do what you do?