A&G: Describe examples of business architecture (BA) and/or information architecture (IA) you have seen at organizations you have worked for or been exposed to (generic, no company names)? And how would you rate those efforts?
Walker: In regard to business architecture success stories, I’ve seen a company transform its entire IT landscape to make business architecture a first-class citizen. It did this by creating an executive business steering committee. And that executive business steering committee was responsible for centralizing the corporate strategy. Having that structure tied down then led to a formal business architecture team. The business architecture team reported directly to the strategy steering group. So, for the first time in that company’s history, it had a business architecture translating the business corporate strategy into something consumable by the enterprise. That function was elevated all the way up to executive vice presidents, the highest level in the corporation, to focus on the discipline of the business architecture.
The outputs of that were things like road maps, business and IT strategies, and architectures and future state models of where the company wants to go. The company was so ambitious that it said let’s forget the sins of the past and let’s focus on what this company would look like 10 years from now, and let’s create that view. Committee members spent several months creating that view, and then they went back to the enterprise and said, okay, what is the gap, because this is where we need to go as a company. It really gave the company focus and direction in what’s important and what’s not important.
A&G: Have you seen anyone make an attempt at BA or IA and fail? If so, what led to that failure?
Walker: A lot of times it comes down to a few factors. Executive support: it has to be something that’s important to your CIO level executives. If they don’t buy in, it’s not going to happen. I’ve seen those failures. I’ve seen environments where the CIOs were believers but the people didn’t have the right level of business acumen, or they didn’t have the right leadership skills that would make it happen.
All that is important to note here is none of these failures were the result of having a bad tool, a bad technology, or a bad model. I’ve seen all those failed organizations overcompensate on capability models and strategy maps, etc. The result was that they lacked the critical soft skills to make that a successful venture in their companies.
The linchpin in all of this is: if the people who are booting this up don’t have great people skills, they will fail. Because, at that level, this job is based on influence and making people understand that this is important. It’s not about the model you use; it’s about how you conduct yourself and how you win the hearts and minds of the organization.
A&G: If you had to pick one critical success factor for BA/IA, what do you think it would be?
Walker: The critical success factor really comes down to two things. One is business acumen: knowing the business, what the company wants to accomplish, its goals and objectives, its strategies, etc. That will help you have a meaningful conversation. Second is soft skills. I’ve talked a lot about this on my blog: emotional intelligence, which is self-awareness of yourself but also self-awareness of other people, things like empathy. If you don’t have a high degree of emotional intelligence, if you’re not empathetic, you’re not making a connection. And if you’re not making a connection, they’re less likely to buy into what you’re doing. Why is this important? Because when you’re at the business architecture and information architecture levels, the stakes are much higher because they have broad and pervasive impacts. It becomes much harder to convince someone to change or architect their business architecture versus buying a new server.
A&G: What other general comments/thoughts do you have about business and information architecture as it relates or does not relate to enterprise architecture? To solution development and delivery?
Walker: Both of those disciplines, in my opinion, are part of enterprise architecture. There are specific things you do to make sure you have the right enterprise architecture. If you look at any methodology out there, it says you should start out with understanding the corporate strategy. Then, you should go and do a business architecture. Then, you should go understand your information architecture, application, technology, etc.
These two disciplines roll under enterprise architecture. If we look at the BAIT model, which is business, application, information, and technology architecture, enterprise architects are focused more on the business and information and will look at application and technology more secondary. The IT architects have a tendency to focus more on the application and technology architecture. Primarily speaking, they can’t divorce themselves from the other stuff, but if they’re going to focus on transforming the company those are the two disciplines they have to spend more time on.