How not to define business-architecture…

Oh no, not again… Having all but crippled enterprise-architecture for the past decade with a muddled mess of myopia and misdefinitions, it seems Open Group are hell-bent on making the same kind of mess in business-architecture…

I need to be upfront about this: I don’t regard Open Group as ‘the bad guys’. Far from it: they’re an extremely important IT-standards body, and they do very important work indeed throughout the IT space. Yet it seems that whenever they touch anything that isn’t explicitly IT, they bring with them a perhaps-understandable yet entirely inappropriate IT-centric view of the world: and as a result, make a complete hash of it. Every darn time… And for the sake of all of us – including themselves – they really need to stop doing this…

On this occasion, it’s about business-architecture, specifically a transcript of Dana Gardner’s panel-session at the last Open Group conference, back in July: ‘PODCAST: Exploring business-IT alignment: A 20-year struggle culminating in the role and impact of Business Architecture‘. There’s a lot of good sense in there – no question about that – and for anyone involved in enterprise-architecture it’s definitely a ‘must-read’. Yet when I look at the sections that attempt to define business-architecture, and its relations to enterprise-architecture and IT-architectures, all I can do is weep:

[Dave van Gelder] Currently in the Business Architecture Working Group, we see business architecture as something that brings the balance between all the other architectures in the company — that’s IT architecture, financial architecture, money, people architecture, and a lot of other architectures.  If business architecture is bringing the balance between the different aspects of a company, then business architecture is something that should be handled in the top of the organization, because balance should be created between all the different aspects in the organization.

(I was present at that start-up meeting Dave describes, by the way, at the Open Group conference in Lisbon back in 2006. A very good conversation then that unfortunately seems to have gone almost nowhere: the main point I remember was that I was perhaps the only person there who didn’t speak Dutch… 🙂 )

Well, yes, that definition is fine, in its own way – except that that’s actually the linking role of enterprise-architecture. There’s no distinct ‘architecture of the business of the business’ here: in other words, no business-architecture. And it gets worse:

[Harry Hendrickx] When we look at the enterprise architect and the solution architect, the business architect focuses more on the complete implications of the strategy and technology trends on the operations, whereas the enterprise architect is more interested in the IT and the implications for the IT strategy and how IT should be deployed. The business architect is much more focused on the complete performance of the business operations.

In other words, despite Walter Stahlecker’s explanatory document for the Business Architecture Working Group back in 2008, and despite Len Fehskens’ excellent article on ‘Enterprise architecture’s quest for its identity‘ on the Open Group’s own weblog, the Open Group still fails to grasp the bald fact that enterprise-architecture is not an IT-role, and that the term ‘enterprise-architecture’ is not a synonym for ‘enterprise-scope IT-architecture’ – the latter being what is actually meant by ‘enterprise architect’ above.

As Len Fehskens makes clear in his article, enterprise-architecture is the architecture of the enterprise – and the enterprise (or extended-enterprise, if you prefer) extends not just beyond IT, but also a long way beyond the organisation itself. In enterprise-architecture, we develop an architecture for an organisation, but about the extended-enterprise or ‘ecosystem-with-purpose’ within which it operates. It’s also a much broader scope than the architecture of the ‘the business of the business’ – in other words, the domain-architecture that we would properly describe as ‘business-architecture’.

But what we have here is, unfortunately, yet another Open Group mess. Enterprise-architecture is sort-of defined as an IT role, tasked with bridging the gap between IT and ‘anything not-IT’. Business-architecture variously either takes on an organisation-centric variant of the real enterprise-architecture role (as in Dave van Gelder’s comment above), or a muddled mixture of ‘the architecture of everything not-IT’ (as in Harry Hendrickx’s comment) – the exact same IT-centric mistake as in Phase B of the TOGAF ADM. How this is supposed to help in bridging the infamous ‘business-IT divide’, when just about everything here will clearly increase it, I just do not know…

Perhaps the most worrying point, though, is this:

[Dana Gardner] Anyone else with some thoughts about how to make the certification and standardization of this stick?

[Mieke Mahakena] What we’ve been doing in the Business Forum, after we decided that business architecture has its own reason for existence, we described the business architecture profession – what’s the scope and what should be the outcome of business architecture. Now, we’re working on the practice of business architecture by defining a framework, looking at methods, and defining approaches you can use to do business architecture.

Parallel to that, if you know what the profession is and what the practice is, you’re able to create the business architecture certification, because those things help you define the required skills and experience a business architect needs. So, we are working on that in the Business Forum.

Why is this worrying? To see why, you need to click on the ‘Business Forum’ link. It takes you to a password-protected page – which, by examining the link, you’ll realise is only accessible to Open Group’s ‘Platinum’ members. The ‘big boys’: no mere mortals allowed here, thank you very much. Which should remind us, yet again, just how ‘open’ the Open Group actually isn’t: in fact, it operates a ‘pay for play’ membership, a straightforward hierarchy in which the only real rule is that the ‘big boys’ always win. So what we have in the Business Forum is a group of large IT-consultancies who’ve demonstrated over and over again that they have barely a freakin’ clue about anything beyond IT, supposedly defining the entirety of the business-architecture profession, discipline and certification, all of it behind closed doors, and with no input or review from anyone beyond IT. If you’re working in enterprise-architecture, and that fact doesn’t worry you, it should…

Again, some good ideas scattered throughout that transcript: but overall…? – well, perhaps the only word that could describe it is ‘yikes…’? Sorry, guys, but we definitely need to do better than this. Please?

Oh well.

7 Comments on “How not to define business-architecture…

  1. Hmmm. Even making allowance for the facts that
    a) you’ve only highlighted the things that you didn’t like
    b) people have a habit in the podcast context of expressing their own opinion rather than that of the group (after all, we know that Walter and Len wouldn’t agree with this stuff),
    it’s still pretty disturbing.
    Dave’s comment doesn’t even seem to make sense from a TOGAF perspective. We do know that the Business architecture group started, because people wanted to pull Bus Arch away from IT-centrism. Maybe it’s just an overstatement of his case. That too can happen in a conversational situation.
    Nonetheless I’m inclined to pursue this in the Open Group. As it happens, I didn’t read/listen, because I’m allergic to the “IT/Business alignment” theme (a bit extremist but you know why). I suppose I’ll need to do that before I open my mouth (and put my foot in it).
    Thanks anyway for drawing my attention to this.

  2. My thoughts exactly. Don’t agree that your tone was too harsh. It seems exactly the right tone to take. A standards body is one thing. A pay-for-play back-room cabal setting the rules for the rest of us is something else entirely. I think there’s something here also about taking the industry analysts and standards pontiffs a little less at their word and hanging a lot less on their every pronouncement. I mean, did we need a Gartner Hype Cycle to tell us cloud computing is overhyped? Why do practitioners look to these bodies for their definitions of business architecture or enterprise architecture?

    Great stuff as usual.

  3. Tom, I was there in Lisbon 2006 with you and The Open Group does seem caught in a loop. While their membership and participation remains as it is they will never achieve escape velocity from the IT world.

  4. Hmmm. Is it that the IT centric nature and stakeholders don’t want to let go OR (my view) that we are not focusing on the business people who can put IT, Fins, Infrastructure architectures into the structure of partial services to a business and its interaction with customers, suppliers and itself. It takes years to get the business to focus some of its energy on this. KEEP UP THE GOOD WORK!

  5. Tom, never mind! Three individuals aren’t “The Open Group”.

    And: All of this isn’t about a proper definition of “Business Architecture”, but about “Business WITH Architecture”, i.e. training & certification business, that’s what IMHO the companies (espacially one company) investing here really do care about… …legitimate from one point of view, puzzling from another.

  6. Hi Tom,

    As practionner, I share the same feelings regarding Business Architecture : Architects are viewed as IT centric and some of them really act as IT centric.

    This is what I like in your posts, they give feedbacks from a very good pratictioner.

    In real world, a lot of people are working on Business Architecture : Business Analysts, Management consultant, Quality managers… And most of them continue to see Architect as IT expert just able to make happen their business vision on to Information Systems.

    Yet Enterprise Architecture proposition is a vision of the whole Enterprise as a System to transform successfully Business, in consequence Enterprise Architecture should be seen as a leading point of view by all these experts.

    Actually, it is not the case, Enterprise Architecture most of time is viewed as an IT function.

    Indeed TOGAF 9 doesn’t go as far as needed to install this vision, even if the work of Business group has been very interesting and has brought a lot of value. At last, the very best indicator would be that Enterprise Architecture would be part of MBA programs and become a ‘should have’ for any Blue Chip top manager.

    That’s why I think that there is still a long way in front of us to make fully happen EA proposition value in big companies.

    Best regards

    Jerome Capirossi

  7. I just bumped into this mailthread again of half a year ago. Interstingly how much sentiment this topic raises. That is good, because then it is about something.

    I fully agree with Jerome that there is a long way to go. Standards drag behind by nature. Too many views and practices have to get aligned to evolve to something that is understood by sufficient disciplines and stakeholders to get accepted. In my view the BAWG and the Business Forum both have achieved a lot by taking this battle on. The alignment of the vocabulary of business biased viewpoints and IT biased viewpoints have been largely aligned. However, not everybody will appreciate it, if one does not want to take the same viewpoint as the profession of business architect. That viewpoint links to what we believe the challenge is. And I believe that challenge is related to implementation of a business strategy, logic and the adoption of new technology. The business architect needs a continuous insight in how these relate to each other, and how over time these potentially evolve. He is in the sweetspot of strategy implementation and guarding the business value of programs. Some will call it business consultant, although that role is often lacking technology savviness, others enterprise architects. However, the enterprise architect in a traditional viewpoint has a technology biased focus. Therefore the new role is justified to be brought alive. Professionals from both sides may take this role, because of either their experience or education. However, we have to understand that this role is different from the classic (dangerous :-)) business consultant or enterprise architect. The contribution of the business forum and BAWG is now that they have aligned the vocabulary and now clearly described what role is needed to prevent the high failure rate of strategy implementations. The summary of this view can be read in the IEEE paper “Defining the Business Architecture profession”, PID1964443, 5-7 September 2011.

    My 2 c’s

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