Business Architecture: A Pragmatic Perspective

business architecture

INTRODUCTION

Business architecture (BA) is no longer just an emerging discipline or an “interesting concept.” While far from being mature, it is increasingly being leveraged by enterprises to provide tangible value. And in the industry, business architecture has been gaining momentum, slowly but surely, through the activities of a growing BA community, involved in numerous efforts in or related to business architecture. This article examines the current state of BA in the industry and presents a pragmatic perspective to address the situation.

RATIONALE

Let us examine a few other aspects of BA’s current state in the industry.

  • While instances of BA providing value are surfacing, the field itself is far from being mature. There are as many definitions and viewpoints as there are practitioners. Good practices are being proven out and socialized, but standards are absent, and will take some time to develop and gain industry-wide acceptance.
  • Numerous BA communities are being established to advance this discipline and help its practice. However, while being well-intentioned in their own way, they also tend to impose their own views and preferences, which might further confuse those wanting to get into this field as practitioners.
  • The tools outlook is not rosy either. While the related fields of Business Process Management (BPM) and Business Rules Management (BRM) have fairly mature tools, generic BA tools are still not there in functionality, usability, and maturity. At best, the current enterprise architecture tool vendors (Sparx Systems EA, Troux, etc.) have been extending their existing toolsets to cover some of the BA aspects.

This loosey-goosey state of affairs is not atypical of new fields in their journey from nascence to maturity into robust disciplines and practices providing tangible value. But that does not really help a would-be BA practitioner who can end up spending an inordinate amount of time “agonizing” about this unsettling situation. One cannot afford to wait for a consensus on the fundamentals or for standards to be established. The practical need is to hunker down and start something or risk being left behind.

That sort of pragmatic approach is precisely what we are trying to adopt at Wells Fargo. And as one of the starting steps in this approach, we are establishing and socializing clear statements on the following four key aspects of BA:

  • Definition and Components
  • Value Proposition
  • Key Activities and Deliverables
  • Community of Practice

The rest of this article explores each of these aspects in further detail.

BA DEFINITION AND COMPONENTS

There are several “good” definitions, and most of them are valid and useful in their own right, while being limited in some ways. The point is to adopt a definition that suits your environment, and be aware of its strengths and limitations. The following is a consolidation of several definitions that have been around in the industry, and it captures quite well the quintessence of BA:

Business architecture is a disciplined approach to creating and managing business-specific artifacts that serve as a formal blueprint for the planning and execution of strategy across the enterprise.

The business-specific artifacts may be grouped into the following three major areas:

  • Governance Structures: Including the business context and organizational views showing the various structures; relationships among roles, functions, and business units; and their internal or external management.
  • Business Semantics: Information about all the business entities that the organization depends on to communicate and structure the understanding of the areas they operate within. It includes the enterprise’s vision, mission, strategies, goals, offerings, customers, channels, costs, revenues, resources, principles, policies, culture, rules, events, etc.
  • Value Streams: End-to-end collections of activities that deliver value to the enterprise’s main constituents—customers, shareholders, employees, and partners. They include functions, capabilities, processes, operations, etc.business architecture value proposition

business architecture deliverablesBA VALUE PROPOSITION

The overall value of BA is in establishing a framework to create, manage, and communicate key business aspects that serve as a foundation of the enterprise to operationalize strategy, enhance accountability, and improve decision making. Dominant BA activities, both in Wells Fargo as well as in the industry, have been centered on business capabilities, processes, and rules—their modeling, mapping, evaluation, monitoring, etc.—with gradual branching out to other areas of BA such as modeling organizations, governance, and key enterprise assets. As in the case of BA definition, BA value proposition statements abound in the industry. Figure 1 attempts to consolidate many of those into three major categories.

BA KEY ACTIVITIES AND DELIVERABLES

Figure 2 describes the deliverables for the main BA activities and the corresponding salient features of those deliverables.

BA COMMUNITY OF PRACTICE

The final key step is to establish a collaborative community of practice with specific objectives and plan of action spearheaded by a core group.

The prime purpose of the core group, of course, is to support the enterprise’s community of BA practitioners, consumers, and enthusiasts, and advance the practice of business architecture. Specifics of this purpose and role are shown in Figure 3.

One of the first goals of the BA core group is to clarify the field of BA, particularly its relationship to other domains that have been around for a lot longer, such as Business Process Management (BPM) and Business Rules Management (BRM). Both BPM and BRM have had active communities of practice within the industry. Their main focus, however, has been on the evaluation and use of the vendor tools for accomplishing various aspects of these areas. The “business” aspects of BPM and BRM often get overshadowed or neglected, resulting in solutions to business problems that are driven primarily by technology tools.

business architecture core groupGiven that both business processes and rules are key components of business (see the BA definition), one of our strategies at Wells Fargo is to position BA as the overarching discipline that includes the existing efforts in BPM and BRM, especially the “business” aspects of those disciplines. Consequently, we are in the process of consolidating the existing BPM and BRM communities under the umbrella of the BA community of practice.

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About Atul Bhatt 1 Article
Atul Bhatt is a senior enterprise architect in the enterprise architecture group at Wells Fargo and is responsible for all aspects of developing and promoting the use of architecture strategies, solutions, standards, and practices across the enterprise. Dr. Bhatt has more than 33 years of systems architecture, technology planning and integration, and business strategy experience in computers and communications across various industries.