IT-centrism, business-centrism, capability and process

My earlier post ‘IT-centrism is killing enterprise-architecture‘ seemed to touch a nerve with quite a few folks:

  • tetradian: [post] IT-centrism is killing enterprise-architecture (thx @dougnewdick) #entarch
  • tonia_ries: The only thing that should be at the center of any business is the customer. @krcraft @tetradian
  • krcraft: Agree, if staff also inc. as customers RT @tonia_ries The only thing that should be at the center of any business is the customer @tetradian
  • Tim_Flux: @tetradian I think 1 of IT-centrisms problems is, those guilty of it dont recognise it (in themselves), so will not respond to your argument
  • tetradian: @Tim_Flux IT-centrism as ‘invisible to self’ – yes, unfortunately, very true (applies to all ‘-centrisms’, of course)
  • chrisdpotts: The ‘centricity’ issue in #entarch: it is usually capital-centric, not enterprise-centric (economics; RecrEAtion) // A strategy of stopping all capital-centric #entarch has extremely low chance of success!  Better to demonstrate the alternatives.

But then a follow-on comment by Doug Newdick triggered a really good discussion around business-centrism, capability and process, with Doug, Alec Sharp, Kris Meukens, Chris Bird and others all diving in:

  • dougnewdick: Excellent post RT @tetradian: [post] IT-centrism is killing enterprise-architecture (thx @dougnewdick) #entarch // @tetradian Hi Tom – that post is excellent, and I think much better for being more moderate in tone, though still passionate
  • alecsharp: @dougnewdick @tetradian Tom – I’ve grabbed your post, and will read it with interest. It’s a topic much on my mind these days… // Frustrated by EAs who confuse the scene with “capabilities” (business processs) in trying to be “business oriented” // Most fields are guilty of reinventing (and renaming) the wheel, but EA has really done a disservice in recent years
  • dougnewdick: @alecsharp You don’t like the term “business capability”? Or just the way it is used?
  • alecsharp: @dougnewdick “Capability” is fine to describe abilities of a person or org. EA use of Biz Cap’y is indistinguishable from process // I have clients in a serious mess due to EA groups tossing BC into the mix when a process arch. was already in place
  • dougnewdick: @alecsharp I suppose that if you had a good process arch in place, there’d be less need for business capability map // however I think business capability is a good way to describe something more than process: ability to deliver outcomes
  • alecsharp: @dougnewdick I think the “business capability” concept is redundant – indistinguishable from process (which was there first.) // I can’t agree – a business process is nothing but a way to deliver an intended outcome. // MIke Rosen’s BPTrends article (inadvertently) demonstrated that “capabilities” are exactly the same as biz processes
  • dougnewdick: @alecsharp You’d be proved right if capability analysis + process analysis gave the same answers, & I haven’t done that exercise // how do you address the qn of whether we have the right people with the right skills to do “x”? Surely not a process qn
  • alecsharp: @dougnewdick My observation is they’re very close – the difference is in the rigor of the analyst, not the concept. // But that was my earlier point – “capability” is appropriate if describing abilities/skills of ppl and orgs… // … but all the “capability models” I see don’t address that, they describe processes… // …in my f’work, “skills” (HR) is an “enabler” along with IT, workflow design, motivation, policies/rules, workspace
  • krismeukens: @alecsharp @dougnewdick business process is an ordered way to deliver outcome, but there are unordered ways as well // capability captures both, ordered and unordered
  • alecsharp: @krismeukens @dougnewdick Disagree – business process spans the range, from transactional to totally unstructured // I think the problem we have in the BP field is that “automated workflow” is equated to “process”
  • dougnewdick: @alecsharp Aha! You have explained my unease w many bus cap maps I’ve seen. They’re just process & I was expecting something else
  • krismeukens: @alecsharp @dougnewdick people think of process as being linear and deterministic, I don’t like process as the catch-all term
  • alecsharp: @dougnewdick Precisely! Orgs obviously need “capabilties” but they are different than “what the org does” which is processes
  • krismeukens: @alecsharp @dougnewdick @tetradian the dangers is in what @snowded warns for: our favourite sense-making tool being used for anything
  • alecsharp: @krismeukens @dougnewdick I agree that ppl often assume “process” is linear activity, but “capability” is even more open-ended // That’s why I have a kit full of sense-making tools. 🙂 I’ll stand by what I’ve observed… // …which is that most capabilites I’ve seen EAs define aren’t, and cause much confusion as a result
  • krismeukens: @alecsharp @dougnewdick agree, many misuses. I see capability as “what” one is capable of, process as a “how” to realize it
  • alecsharp: @krismeukens @dougnewdick Understood. I see process as first being “what” (“Acquire Customer”) and then “how” (steps & decisions)
  • dougnewdick: @alecsharp @krismeukens I’d agree with Kris capability = “what”, but also like Alec’s def’n of it as the “skill” of an org
  • alecsharp: @krismeukens @dougnewdick I see capability as (surprise!) ability that enables process. That said, it’s hard to differentiate 🙂 // In my framework, process is the “what” and a workflow (+sys, procedures, …) might be a one “how.” // I’m just sensitive because of hours spent trying to sort it out at clients.
  • dougnewdick: @alecsharp @krismeukens Thanks for asking the hard questions Alec – I think I need to go away and think about this some more
  • alecsharp: @dougnewdick @krismeukens I enjoyed the conv’n and learned from it. Wish we were all gathered around a whiteboard. Thx, Twitter!
  • kdierc: @alecsharp @dougnewdick @krismeukens a twitboard? 🙂
  • seabird20: @alecsharp @dougnewdick @krismeukens can I make the assumption that capabilities are what the org has available to do processes?
  • alecsharp: @seabird20 @dougnewdick @krismeukens That’s how I’d see it. Not “we need the capability to Acquire Customer” – the process itself // There’s a process (what), how it’s done, & supporting enablers: tech, abilities, facilities,
  • seabird20: @alecsharp @dougnewdick OK, then resource vs capability?
  • alecsharp: @seabird20 @dougnewdick @krismeukens Ack! Resource and capability. What are you, Dick Cheney? My head is exploding…
  • dougnewdick: @alecsharp @seabird20 @krismeukens My POV – Capability = the “what” of an org. We execute that using comb of people/process/tech
  • krismeukens: @alecsharp @dougnewdick with a fractal organization that could work 🙂

Rather embarrassingly, it ended with various people thanking me for the conversation, when I hadn’t even been there:

  • dougnewdick: Thanks @alecsharp @tetradian @krismeukens @seabird20 for the great conversations today!
  • ebuise: @dougnewdick @alecsharp @tetradian @krismeukens @seabird20 Thanks for a much needed discussion! (apol. for all RT’s, but you trapped me)
  • alecsharp: @ebuise @dougnewdick @tetradian @krismeukens @seabird20 Fun discussion. Now to read Tom’s post – he started it all!  🙂
  • tetradian: @dougnewdick @alecsharp @krismeukens @seabird20 @ebuise apols that i’ve not been in the capabilities conv – have been offline most of today

For the record, my own opinion is probably closest to Alec’s:

  • a capability is the ability to do something, to some identifiable level of skill, as embedded in a machine, an IT-application and/or a real person
  • a function is a conceptual ‘place’ or ‘space’ within which things are changed in accordance with specific business-rules etc with an identifiable interface or protocol, in accordance with an identifiable ‘contract’ or service-agreement
  • a service is a linking-together of capability and function to provide the ability to deliver a specific outcome
  • a process is a path that links together a sequence of service-transactions (where the service may be either predefined or not – Sigurd Rinde‘s ‘Easily Repeatable Processes’ and ‘Barely Repeatable Processes’), to create a desired set of changes in something

More details on this framework reference-sheet, if anyone’s interested. 🙂

Great conversation, anyway – many thanks, folks!

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