Solution and Business Architecture - The Way Ahead


By Paul Preiss

As both business and solution architecture mature, we are seeing more and more questions come up about how to integrate these often confused disciplines and roles. The heart of the matter lies in two formidable and potentially risky issues facing architecture teams today; having the appropriate organizational understanding of architecture and matching it to an effective engagement model for architects throughout the enterprise.

I want to first address the notion of architecture understanding in an organization. Most architecture teams still struggle to address their value proposition to the enterprise, whether they are business, solution or enterprise architects. Much of this confusion is not that we are unable to setup effective architecture practices but that the existing body of practitioners varies in their experience, skill, language and most of all their agreed definition of the value to the organization. Today most architecture teams have deep skills and experience in technology and that is also what their business partners also expect and demand. And yet we are also aware of the potential benefit of applying architectural thinking to the design of business itself regardless of technology. This chasm between skills and expectations and possible benefits is the single greatest hurdle an organization faces in successfully building their architect practice. It is essential for both your business and solution architects to address this issue head on by:

  1. Agreeing that ALL architecture is measured by business outcomes and not technology efficiency
  2. Agreeing that ALL architects must posses a common language and skill set in business and technology as strategy (note this is not to be confused with their day to day work - more on that below)
  3. Agreeing to an engagement model that matches their current standing in the organization and progresses at an appropriate rate
  4. Constantly communicating contribution to business outcomes
Lets address each of these success factors.

Measuring to Business Outcomes
There is nothing more damaging to a business or solution architecture initiative than measuring based simply on IT cost efficiency. While this is an admirable outcome there is an IT department. It should be run efficiently already. What is missing in most IT groups is the ability to correlate technology accomplishments in relation to business outcomes. This is where a fully capable architect team makes a critical difference. While business architecture should report outside of IT into respective business units, the technology contribution of projects and infrastructure must also contribute to successful business value.

Sharing Common Skills and Language
One of the most important success elements of a successful architecture initiative is getting architects and the business speaking the same language. First, the architect team including business, solution, enterprise and technology architects must be able to communicate with each other. Often what gets in the way is often that technical architects do not have the business or human dynamics skills to interact effectively with business architects outside of IT and, sometimes, that business or enterprise architects lack the relevant technical understanding to interact effectively with their more technical counterparts inside IT. What is essential is that technical architects be trained to speak in terms of business and that business architects are able to translate business strategy into effective direction on technology strategy with the solution architects they work beside. One of the reasons for the success of the Iasa Core Course is that it links these two groups together on business, human dynamics and technology in relation to business outcomes.

Creating an Efficient Engagement Model
An engagement model includes every way that architecture as a discipline interacts with a business including partners and customers. It is not simply a framework, methodology or taxonomy. For example, while a framework such as TOGAF is essential to establishing a best in class architecture methodology, it is essential that the engagement model reflect the entire spectrum of architecture touch points. Most importantly is the responsibilities of the architects in relation to each other. Business architects should function at the director and VP level and should be focused on forward business strategy. They should be heavily engaged in the ongoing development of target state. The solution architect is focused on delivery of that target state, so it is essential that these two roles have an excellent working relationship. Solution architects will often work with many business architects and the reverse is also true, but we have found that a longer term relationship between business and solution architects in relation to a specific line of business is the most stable engagement. I will cover elements of engagement models in a future post. Also keep in mind that it is essential that the engagement model be able to effectively cover the number of projects. This often relates to how many architects you have vs need. Most organizations struggle because they are trying to do too much with too few architects.

Consistent Communication
Architecture teams often create tremendous value but are in the habit of downplaying that value in business contexts. Because we have a culture of giving business units credits for big wins (see the excellent description of this paradox in the book CIO Paradox, by Martha Heller), we tend to under communicate contributions to the bottom line. Probably the best description Ive heard of what architects should be doing came from the CIO of a major pharmaceutical company I recently worked with, "What I need to know is the contribution of each architect to gross profitability. That is the only thing worth communicating." We must communicate successes as much as failures. If we are measuring to business outcomes this should not be too difficult.

Solution and business architecture represent a significant opportunity for architects to increase their value to business growth, but only if they learn to work effectively together towards positive business outcomes.    

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