By Paul Preiss
I have recently been asked to describe the very deep concept of business technology strategy, which has existed at Iasa for over 15 years. Some might call it digital transformation, or as we have described it, as digital advantage, but the roots of the concept go back much further than those phrases.
I have three courses through Iasa teaching BTS for all architects:
Architect Core – Online August 2022 8/23/2022
Architect Core – AUGUST AMSTERDAM ONSITE 8/29/2022
A Bit of History
There were roughly 9 of us in the room in Seattle when we coined the term Business Technology Strategy (BTABoK Competency Model 3.0 – BTABoK (iasaglobal.org). This was long before anyone said ‘digital’ anything. We were trying to understand what competencies an architect must possess to be successful at any stage in their career. We had been doing a bit of whiteboarding and there were a lot of post-it notes but we kept coming back to what to call this grouping of competencies which are about the deep relationship between a business and its technology and what makes an architect unique. Someone said business technology strategy, I’m not sure if it was Simon Guest or Max Poliashenko or Angela Yochem, but it stuck.
So What is Business Technology Strategy?
First, BTS is a competency group name. That is the simplest form of the concept. It is a group of competencies that allow an individual to identify, understand and manage the relationships between business (and by business, we are not describing stakeholders) and technology. In the early days this was often referred to as enablement and described using productivity numbers. So it saved a certain number of person-days to have a computer calculate your taxes than doing it manually. These days it is described as changing the very fabric of humanities relationship with our surroundings and world.
BTS is a much more fundamental concept than just technologies impact on the bottom line of a for-profit company. It is about the changing nature of humans relationship with technology itself. From personal augmentation to artificial intelligence, BTS is about imagining a future where technology defines every aspect of our relationship with our world, with our work, with our friends and with society. And doing so in a way that benefits… well some group of people we generally refer to as clients.
A Client, a Customer, a Stakeholder and a User Walk into a Bar
Before I continue any further, lets get some basics in terminology clear. In the Iasa body of knowledge, a customer is always the beneficiary of the value proposition of the client. The client is the group, company, individual, government or other entity who an architect does work for, regardless of whether the architect is a consultant or an employee. So let’s say Capgemini sends an architect to Primark to work. The customer is anyone who shops at Primark, the Client is Primark. Stakeholders are anyone who is interested in or can influence the architect’s work. So lots of stakeholders there in all those groups. A user is a person who uses some aspect of the final work product so that could be anyone who touches a system. (And yes only technologists and drug dealers have ‘users’ – that joke is very old and still funny). Notice I did not mention Capgemini in the mix… that is because, for ethical practice in BTS, they do not actually exist in the relationship the architect has with his/her client. Yep, our world is topsy-turvy. They exist for contractual purposes, and often for payment and employment purposes, but otherwise, they are not a part of a professional contract.
Think of it this way, if you went to a doctor who happened to work for AstraZeneca, would you expect any different treatment than one who worked for a hospital or a private practice? Would you want an ‘architect’ from one of the big vendors to simply sell you their product regardless of whether it is what you need? This is why I said the ‘ethical’ practice of BTS.
And here is the real kicker, the stakeholders are just a part of the fabric of our work, they are not in and of themselves that important. It is the work that matters and the work is business technology strategy (and execution). The article after this will be a Systematic Stakeholder Approach – so don’t worry I’m not trying to alienate the very people we work with hand in hand to deliver value.
So Why is this so Important?
Business technology strategy is about achieving something measurable which is beneficial to the primary value proposition of an organization to its beneficiaries. I say beneficiaries instead of customers to also include the governments, armies, and non-profits of the world who use mission models instead of business models.
But BTS has a life of its own, in exactly the same way that finance and marketing do. Think about it, many companies make as much money from having money than they do on their product. I have 100 million dollars… I sell 10 million dollars in product sales (which also costs me money leading to an even smaller profit margin) but I make 10 million in the stock market on my 100 million dollars which may or may not be taxed.
Welcome to business 101 or business fundamentals as we call the first competency of BTS. Operations, HR, Finance, Marketing, Sales, MBA stuff.
But that is really just the beginning. What if I am able to redefine my marketplace because of technology? For example, I used to work for Dell. Dell only sold computers online. All fine and good except one thing. They took your money BEFORE they built your computer or even bought the parts. Excellent, great… but think about that. I have 1000s of customers’ dollars to invest in the market, and I haven’t spent a dime. Now of course we DO have to spend your money but, see, we have this unbelievably powerful supply-chain technology and manufacturing technology that allow us to do so at the very last minute. And when you are talking about billions of dollars of income, even a day can be worth millions. Now that is business technology strategy.
Is Everything About BTS?
The short answer nowadays is YES. A resounding holy moly yes. Elections, the milking industry, the way you get TV, the way you date. All of it is BTS. People like the word digital right now but that will likely come and go as ‘Digital Transformations’ keep failing (more on that in a bit).
Business technology strategy is a team sport. It is all about changing our business model to accommodate technology as not only A driving force but in some cases THE driving force. This is where the pundits talk about Airbnb and Netflix, but I’m less interested in the unicorns than I am in the system of systems.
So How Does This Relate to Architecture?
I recently read a very uninteresting and I believe highly silly article (you can find it here: Post | Feed | LinkedIn) where a company was bragging that they got rid of architects! Yay, no more architects, we are all architects! What a stupid move. I guarantee you within 2-3 years they will be dying to hire architects and not competing nearly as well as they are now. But why?
Well even though BTS is a team sport, it is really really hard to be good at consistently and it takes all FIVE pillars from the competency model to be really good at. In the words of my friend, Stephen Cohen, ‘maintaining both business and technical skills throughout an entire career is just hard, and sometimes plain exhausting’. And guess what, you can sometimes get a bunch of people interested in doing it for a while, but business people like business and technologists like technology.
Architects are interesting in the same way doctors at a hospital are interesting. You don’t often see a hospital publishing PR that says, ‘Yay we got rid of all the doctors. We are ALL doctors now!’ A) it would be illegal, but B) it would also be stupid. Because while doctors are not the only healthcare professionals at a hospital, they are the central nervous system of it. Nurses, technicians, nurse-practitioners, administrative staff, HR, IT, all of them revolve around this notion of healing patients, but doctors study and study and practice and practice to be the best at it they can. They are still human and they hopefully don’t think they know it all (Dr. Strange from Marvel being the obvious exception).
This is what architects are to BTS. To Big A agile. To capability-based management, but most importantly to Digital Advantage. A highly trained and mature architecture practice including Business, Information, Infrastructure, Software, Solution, and Chief Architects will kick your digital strategies ass. (I will cover the titles for domain and enterprise architects in another post.)
These are the benefits of BTS done right:
- Faster value realization from capabilities, programs, and change • More digital advantage within complex ecosystems compared to the competition • Supports mergers and acquisitions • Higher visibility and satisfaction for business leaders • Reduced business and technical risk through continual communication of shared goals and purpose • Increased quality of hiring • Simplified management of vendor/provider selection • Better quality, velocity, and value through systems thinking techniques
But your chances of doing it right without high-quality architects… hahaha well I have seen a lot of companies try. Call me in three years when you’ve failed at your big Digital Transformation and your Scaled Agile Teams are running off the rails. I promise I will only say I told you so once, then we can get to fixing it. (and to all the haters, I love both little and Big A agile but you still need us in there alongside you)