Decisions, Decisions — The Technology Edition: How Business Architecture Facilitates Better Technology-Related Decisions

Summary
Business architecture is an excellent framework for informing decisions of all kinds. In this installment of StraightTalk, we explore just a few ideas for how business architecture can be leveraged to inform technology-related decisions, including technology assessment, selection, design, planning and management.

Business architecture is an excellent framework for informing decisions of all kinds. In this installment of StraightTalk, we explore some ideas for how business architecture can serve to leverage and inform technology-related decisions, including technology assessment, selection, design, planning and management. Here goes.

P.S. Check out Post No. 55 for more on the basics of how business architecture can be used as a decision-making framework as well as how it can inform business-related decisions.

How does business architecture help to facilitate better technology-related decisions?

In a nutshell, business architecture…

  • Frames technology information and discussions with a business lens – For example, instead of analyzing information at the system application level, we can lift up and analyze it at the business capability level (which may be automated by multiple system applications).
  • Reflects business priorities – Business architecture, specifically through the value streams and capabilities, inherently convey business priorities based on the objectives they are tied to as well as any metric ratings such as capability effectiveness or strategic importance.
  • Provides a shared business language – Business architecture establishes a common vocabulary and mental model that allows all parties to communicate, regardless of their business or technology perspectives. 

This can result in not only better decision-making and improved partnership between business and IT, but also better understanding, engagement, and ownership by the business for issues such as technical debt and modernization.

Remind me: why is business architecture a good framework for decision-making?

As a framework, business architecture (for example a capability map) has some unique characteristics in that it is:

  • A comprehensive view that represents an entire organization – across all business units – as well as the ecosystem in which it operates
  • A high-level view that allows us to see the forest for the trees
  • A pure business view, completely independent from technology
  • An agreed upon view, created by a respected group of cross-functional business experts
  • An objective view without any organizational or political bias
  • An accessible view to everyone in the organization (provided it has been published)

Where does the IT architecture come in?

The connection between the business architecture and IT architecture is critical for technology decision-making. The following relationships, as defined by the BIZBOK® Guide, are key:

  • Applications cross-map to capabilities (business units may also be included to further delineate the applications used by each business unit for a capability)
  • Software services cross-map to capabilities
  • Value Streams frame software service orchestration and workflow automation
  • Data architecture is informed by the business information map

P.S. Here’s a handy picture of these relationships. And, there’s more on the relationship between business and IT architecture here in Post No. 15.

Okay, so how can we use business architecture within a technology context?

Remember that there are two key ways in which we leverage business architecture, either (1) within the end-to-end strategy execution flow where we are translating ideas into action or (2) as a framework upon which we overlay information in order to organize it, analyze it and communicate insights.

Both apply within a technology context, where we are either (1) translating business or IT strategies and direction into initiatives and solutions that include technology or (2) assessing and making decisions on how to simplify, improve or transform the technology environment (e.g., rationalizing applications, remediating tech debt, etc.).

How does business architecture help with the translation of business direction into technology-related changes?

First, business architecture helps technologists speak the language of the business so that they can get a seat at the table to inform direction. Then when it comes to translating established business direction, business architecture:

  • Provides clear and cohesive business direction as well as specificity around exactly what business focal points need to change (think targeted value streams, capabilities, information, products, policies, etc.) and how (think uplifts to the operating model such as people, process and technology)
  • Accelerates technology impact analysis by starting with business focal points and communicates technology impact in a business context
  • Informs, shapes, and prioritizes initiatives from a combined business and technology perspective, ultimately leading to business-driven roadmaps
  • Informs solution design with business needs and frames solutions with business context (e.g., workflow can be framed by value streams)

P.S. More on business architecture’s role in strategy execution here in Posts No. 3, No. 50 and No. 9.

How does business architecture provide a framework for other types of technology-related decision-making?

Here are seven starter ideas, which are by no means a complete list, but something to prime your thinking as you consider this important topic. Capabilities take the center stage in these usage scenarios, but their connections to value streams and other business architecture domains (e.g., business units, strategies and initiatives) as well as IT architecture domains (e.g., applications and software services) are essential.

Business architecture can be used to inform and communicate decisions related to…

1. IT Strategy and Architecture Alignment – Business architecture:

  • Articulates where the business is going and what aspects of the business are involved
  • Illuminates gaps within the IT architecture in meeting business needs and prioritizes actions to address them
  • Informs and guides the IT architecture (applications, software services, data architecture)
  • Facilitates business-driven roadmaps for IT architecture transformation

2. Technology Selection – Business architecture:

  • Defines business needs, priorities, and usage scenarios for technology to address
  • Provides cohesive business and technology impact analysis for build or buy options

3. Cloud Strategy and Migration – Business architecture:

  • Articulates where the business is going and what aspects of the business are involved to inform cloud strategy and decision-making
  • Provides business context and priority to define what to put in the cloud and when
  • Provides cohesive business and technology impact analysis for assessing cloud options
  • Facilitates readiness of the business and technology environment for cloud migration

P.S. More on how business architecture informs cloud decision-making here in Post No. 82.

4. Application Portfolio Rationalization and Management – Business architecture:

  • Provides a business lens to examine application redundancy, health, and risk
  • Informs decision-making and priorities for addressing application redundancy and issues
  • Guides modernization approach selection
  • Facilitates business-driven roadmaps to implement courses of action
  • Prevents the creation of future application redundancy

P.S. Check out Post No. 10 for more on how to perform Application Portfolio Rationalization and Management using business architecture.

5. Tech Debt – Business architecture:

  • Provides the business lens to examine tech debt, including a dimension for business alignment (e.g., picture a matrix with applications plotted by their level of tech debt and business alignment)
  • Informs decision-making and priorities for addressing tech debt
  • Guides tech debt remediation approach selection (based on the matrix mentioned above)
  • Facilitates business-driven roadmaps to implement courses of action
  • Prevents the creation of future tech debt

6. Business-Based IT Metrics – Business architecture:

  • Reports application availability or other metrics within a business context (e.g., oriented around capabilities versus applications)
  • Reframes accountability around business focal points (e.g., capabilities) with business ownership
  • Informs decision-making and priorities for addressing issues

7. Emerging Technologies (e.g., artificial intelligence) – Business architecture:

  • Articulates where the business is going and whsat aspects of the business are involved
  • Provides a framework for business model and architecture innovation
  • Identifies usage scenarios for leveraging emerging technologies
  • Rationalizes data for effective use by emerging technologies
  • Manages risk and provides transparency (e.g., for algorithms)

As always, here's a handy diagram that summarizes all of the above:

Table showing examples of how Leveraging business architecture can be used to technology-related decisions

Leveraging Business Architecture for Technology-Related Decisions

Downloadable Media

Anything else?

To actually make this work, there needs to be tight alignment and partnership between business architecture and IT architecture within the enterprise architecture umbrella. While this might seem obvious to some, it is frequently not the case in many organizations.  

Business architecture and IT architecture (especially application architecture and data architecture) need to be aligned in every way: alignment of domains within the architecture knowledgebase, alignment of roles, alignment of practice direction, and alignment of value proposition and usage scenarios. BFFs indeed.

More Good Stuff...

Tech Debt: Reclaiming Tech Equity (McKinsey): A great overview of technical debt and how to address it – with plenty of opportunities to help you make the case for leveraging business architecture as part of it.

IT as the Whipping Boy: Mistakenly Confusing ‘Enterprise IT’ with ‘Consumer IT’ (The European Business Review): A great case for an organization to leverage business and enterprise architecture for IT. ”With enterprise IT, organizational architecture, clearly describing how the enterprise will function and defining how all the pieces fit together to help it achieve operational and strategic objectives, is critical.

Taming the IoT Wild Wild West with Enterprise Architecture (Charles Arajuo and Intellyx): A case for leveraging enterprise architecture for guiding the deployment of IoT.

The Problem With Application Modernization (Charles Arajuo and Intellyx): New approaches for addressing application modernization and how to strike a balance between the need to develop new applications while modernizing the existing application stack.

Business Architecture and IT Architecture Alignment (Part 6 of the BIZBOK® Guide): Here’s the official word on the topic of business and IT architecture alignment. (Requires Guild membership.)

How Technology Evolves (TED Talk): A fascinating and sweeping TED Talk by Kevin Kelly oriented around his question of "What does technology want?" He uncovers that its movement toward ubiquity and complexity is much like the evolution of life. Whoa.