What is Business Architecture?


Over the last couple of years there has been quite a buzz around business architecture. There are courses on business architecture popping up all over the place. Some good and some not quite as good, like everything!

We will be going back to some basics to understand what business architecture is (well my view) and how it can be used, why you need it and what the benefits are of having a business architecture. We will not be going too deep but give you enough to understand and be able to make some decisions, if necessary. The first one being, how can I get a business architecture?

Well, you already have a business architecture whether you like it or not, the question is have you documented it and do you use it. For me the business architecture is:

  • The link between business strategy and execution,
  • An abstracted model of what the business does (and can be extend to how and why),
  • It is independent of organisation structure, this is a key distinction.

There is some debate as to whether business architecture is part of enterprise architecture or separate. My view is that the business should own the business architecture even if they do not maintain it. It can be managed by the enterprise architecture team as they generally have the requisite skills, providing the team has moved well beyond a technology architecture view. Equally it can be managed by the business strategy team or business strategy within business units. This also argues in favour of the enterprise architecture not being part of IT but being part of the business (a perennial debate).

The diagram below is one example (there are many) of how business architecture fits into enterprise architecture. Each layer is trying to deliver services and outcomes which the enterprise architecture can organise in a coherent response to business needs. The business architecture provides the business context to the more ‘technology driven’ layers and helps align the services and technology outcomes to business outcomes.

A diagram of how business architecture fits into enterprise architecture

Why is business architecture valuable?

The value business architecture provides is held within the following:

  • Providing an agreed view of the business or a specific part of the business as a whole
  • Shows where the value of the organisation is generated
  • A way to understand how the goals and strategy of the organisation are translated into work that gets done
  • Aid in identifying the impact of change
  • Can show where IT does and does not support the business
  • Can help identify where investment is skewed, over and/or under investment

This shows that business architecture is valuable to a range of people and not just an artefact that looks good printed on the CIO or CEO’s wall.

So we understand what you can get from business architecture, but how does business architecture link strategy and execution?

Business architecture provides a view of the business goals and drivers of the strategy and, their application to the target business model (see business model definition here). The business architecture provides the link between the strategy and how the business works, through the capabilities and capability models for the organisation. So it is important to get these right which will take some time and consultation.

In understanding the capabilities of the organisation, the key value streams of the organisation are identified. Focussing on the key value streams and the capabilities to support those value streams that the strategy has identified will enhance the value of those streams.

The capabilities then need enhancing or building can then be broken down in to the domains of the organisation including IT and yes IT has its own business architecture.

Finally the business architecture then looks at the resources needed to implement the capabilities considering the people, process and technology dimensions.

How do I build out my business architecture?

Building your business architecture starts with making a conscious decision to fundamentally understand the capabilities required to deliver the outcomes required for the organisation or business unit. This starts with working through all the capabilities required including supporting capabilities that are important to enable the delivery, through people, process and technology as a whole.

The second key dimension of your business architecture understanding what are the key value drivers and value streams in the organisation or business unit. Once the extraneous processes and functions are removed it should be clear how the organisation or business unit creates value for the business. If this is not clear then external help is usually required. Using a tool like the business model canvas can help clarify what value is generated, by who and, to whom.

Why should business architecture be a key aid to IT and, why do enterprise architects get involved?

There are probably many answers and there is likely to be some philosophical and academic debate. For me, the business architecture provides the basis on which to link what the business does, to how the business works and, the link to how technology should and should not (necessarily) support the business goals. This the link required for IT to enable the turning of strategy into execution.

Enterprise architecture and business architecture complement each other in moving to execution. A reasonable well defined enterprise architecture provides the framework and boundaries within which to deliver the strategy outcomes and the business architecture shows how the stagey can be executed within the framework and boundaries. The boundaries are likely to be formed of governance needs, compliance needs and, business execution capability and maturity.

As we have said above IT has its own business architecture and this is where IT can generally make the most improvement through both the ability to control, and the ability to execute on itself. This may not be comfortable or easy, but showing that IT both understand business and treats itself as a business, will gain better traction with colleague across the organisation.

So what is next?

Well, we can try to define the business architecture for IT. There are already frameworks and tools to help do this and this will be discussed in the next installment of this series.