13 years, 5 months ago

Business Architecture and Business Ecology

This is a response to a very thought-provoking discussion that’s been going on at the Business Ecology Initiative LinkedIn Group on the topic of whether Business Architecture is synonymous with Business Ecology.  I suppose the answer depends on where one draws the scope boundary around Business Architecture.  Based on our observations from how this works in practice, it will probably be different in different organizations. For example, in our Vanilla Enterprise Architecture Capability Map, Business Architecture is a core business capability portfolio (or core function) of Enterprise Architecture, similar to how The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF) Architecture Development Method (ADM) positions the discipline.  Business Ecology, on the other hand, encompasses Enterprise Architecture, along with other Office of the CXO strategy and planning functions, such as Risk Management, Portfolio Management, Asset Management, et al.  It also includes the delivery and ongoing operational steady state functions of a given organization.

That’s not to say that two are unrelated.  The challenge for every organization is to find the “right” level of investment in the various core functions to balance short-term profitability with long-term competitive advantage.  If one were to view each core function – whether strategy/planning, delivery, or operations – as a separate business unit, each of these core functions would have their own business architecture.  Consider two core functions that most organizations of scale have (sometimes in spades) – Risk Management and Portfolio Management:
  • They each (RM and PM) have unique organizational attributes (e.g. culture, org structure, etc.), as one would expect of two organizations with completely different mission statements-especially around communication!
  • They each have unique business attributes – the business of mitigating risk is quite different than that of getting leadership to agree on the priorities of various efforts;
  • They each have unique technology needs and tools – although a seasoned Enterprise Architect may detect a certain amount of commonality between GRC and EPPM tools.

So in the example above, there are two core functions within the same organization, bound by the same organizational goals and objectives, empowered by the same leadership, with two competing missions, business operating models, organizational constraints, and technology.  And that’s just within the Office of the CXO.  Once the analysis reaches the various business profit and loss centers, whose entire business operating models may be disparate, the natural result is complexity. 
As I presented at BEI last year, complexity is nothing to be afraid of – it’s just complicated (podcast here).  Even in the simple example above, there is an optimal range of options that allow for the two competing core functions to work in harmony. Finding the range that works to align the given set of core functions is an obvious use case for business architects.  The more core functions there are to align, the more complicated it gets, since there are quite a few dependencies (and personalities) to align. 
Before I get too far down the rabbit hole, here’s the gist:  the business of Business Architecture is creating and managing the “right” equilibrium and range for Business Ecology – the alignment of all of the disparate business operating models and their core functions within a given organization. Not to say that it can’t be done without a formal Business Architecture function.  But the likelihood that it can be done consistently well diminishes as level of scale increases.