Studying recent literature on Business Architecture brings only one possible conclusion: Behind the term 'business archictecture' you may find numerous definitions and methods piled up. It seems, and this is recognized by several authors, that every consulting company or group has its own definition and approach, based on parallel developments over the past years.

Of course there are some common understandings between the majority of the approaches: 

  • Purpose: Business Architecture is an instrument to get from strategy to execution in an increasingly complex business context with a large need for future adaptability. The scope however, may differ extremely. Some methods even 'take over' the field of strategy development, while others only translate strategy into partial organisation's design. 
  • Business Architecture (BA) is not just part of Enterprise Architecture (EA) and the common opinion is quickly shifting towards EA as an instrument for the management of IT, while BA is of some higher level and wider purpose.
  • Models and modeling are used as a key instrument for Business Architecture. The modeling languages however, are chosen quite differently! One book even promotes UML for modeling Business Architecture.
  • Many authors acknowlegde the Business Model (Canvas) from Osterwalder as an important factor in the development of Business Architecture. Some consider this to be the input for BA, for others it is integrated within their BA method and models. 

The most striking conclusion from literature research is that the term 'architecture' is adopted rapidly, without any (solid) explanation where this concept differs from structure, design or even model. The situation as descibed will certainly hinder the adoption and professional development of Business Architecture as a profession. 

During the last 15 years we have practiced and tought Business Architecture (in Dutch: 'Bedrijfsarchitectuur') in the Netherlands and now seems an excellent moment to share the principles from which we have been working. Hopefully this will contribute to the discussions on how to progress Business Architecture to a more mature profession.

Principles for Business Architecture Design

As we all know, the concept of architecture has been copied from buildings, cities and landscape architectures. Essential in that area is the design by an architect, who may be part of a certain 'school' and probably has a typical design style. The design is not the architecture, but for instance a building was realized 'under architecture' and the building has the architecture included after realization. Architecture includes beauty and quality. For me, design is an essential characteristic of Business Architecture as well. Organisations that were not designed (properly) do not have 'architecture', although its structure and other characteristics can be described or modeled in the same way as an architectural design. I agree with many authors that the 'architect' of business may well be the management and not carrying the title 'business architect'. This might change in the years to come, but certainly in the current time-frame a (vice)president, director or manager would not proudly accept the title...

We use open systems theory to enable business architecture design and description. This enables the construction of a comprehensive and coherent set of models in which all aspects and professions of organizations are included. The system is the organisation or enterprise in its context. A system has function (what it does, the value it contributes) and construction (how it is structured and works, with people, systems and more). By the use of subsystems and aspect systems the complexity can be understood en modeled. Phase systems enable us to describe the development of the system over time.

The above makes adoption of the ISO 42010:2011 definition ("fundamental concepts or properties of a system in its environment embodied in its elements, relationships, and in the principles of its design and evolution") very well possible. A minor flaw is that the definition originates from system and software design, which may not be accepted as a methodological guide for business and organizational development.

Business architecturing is part of the change process. Most books on Business Architecture do not address the point that designing the BA cannot be separated from the organizational and personal change that is required. Most books only mention the project portfolio management based on the architecture. In my opinion the architecture design process should be organized as a contribution to change and not only for decision making with CxO roles. We use the 'red and blue balance' while planning and organizing conferences and workshops during BA design. Red stands for feelings and motivation, where blue stands for rationality, analysis and design. With a proper mix of workshop methods and a carefully selected and broad group of contributers both should be properly addressed. This ensures that when is defined where we should go with the organization (blue), this is also where we all want to go (red). 

Adaptive organizations are capable of quickly changing the products/services and volumes in which these are delivered. This means that the work structures must be designed smartly, based upon the delivery of products and services (work streams) and the expected variability herein. In order to achieve this goal the work (processes) should be a central concept in business architecture. In a following article I will elaborate on this. At the same time 

The key issue for Business Architecture is to create coherence and direction between organizational aspects such as operations, HR, marketing, IT and facilities aligned with strategy. This starts at the level of principles that guide these aspects. In many organizations the different aspects, all having their own directors, make separate translations of strategy and create their own directions in their own professional language. It should not be a coincidence when all aspects effectively support the expected delivery of products and services. In practice oftenb the operational staff does not feel supported by the other organizational aspects, which hinders cooperation and effectiveness. For this reason coherence between strategy and among the aspects should be created at all levels of detail, starting with the principles guiding each field. In our method and style for Business Architecture the Business Process Architecture is the key to assuring coherence at the more detailed level. The Business Process is viewed in an holistic way, so all organizational aspects relate directly to the processes (subsystems) and their contribution to product and service delivery, which ensures a focus on value creation. 

Agile and just-in-time Business Architecture. A Business Architecture Design is the result of a process that may but should not take a very long time. In order to cope with this, we can view the Business Architecture as an emergent and growing phenomena. A design or description should be made just-in-time and in short cycles, with constantly improved and possibly more detailed versions. The paradox here is that the BA should give certainty to all involved in the realization, such as the development and implementation of software, and the earlier contributors should not be surprised with sudden changes. This can be solved with a transparent design and process and frequent communications.

Quality of a Business Architecture design can be measured objectively by reviewing the design process and results. Some criteria were mentioned above and others are: Logical reasoning between strategy and chosen BA principles, documents and models can be read and understood by the targeted groups, decisions were made with the right mandate, consistency and coherence between the organizational aspects, and more. External or internal audits may support improvement and further development of the BA quality.