8 years, 3 months ago

On the business of the business

Link: http://weblog.tetradian.com/2013/01/22/on-the-business-of-the-business/

What is business? For that matter, what is – or is not – ‘a business’?

Seems a kinda important question for business-architecture, doesn’t it? And yet no-one seems to ask it…

So let’s just do some proper enterprise-architecture thinking around this one – otherwise we’ll get the architecture into a right old mess. Again…

The usual answers I hear seem to revolve around an assumption that an organisation can only be called ‘a business’ if its focus is ‘making money’ – in other words some sort of commercial business. Yet in which case, what do we call other types of organisations? – ‘non-businesses’, perhaps? If so, why does almost every government organisation, or school, or charity, or even the local bowling-club, have people whose job-title is some variant of ‘business-manager’? And if only commercial organisations can be called ‘businesses’, what do we call the equivalent of business-architecture in those many organisations that, according that definition, aren’t ‘businesses’?

What I’d suggest, very strongly, is that this separation of ‘business’ versus ‘non-business’ is as artificial as the separation between ‘for-profit’ and ‘not-for-profit’ – and just as misleading, too.

The simple way out of this one is to recognise that ‘business’ literally means ‘busy-ness’ – the state or condition of ‘being busy’. In which case, every organisation must, by definition, be ‘a business’, because the whole point of an organisation is that it provides a context to coordinate people’s ‘busy-ness’ towards some shared aim. Every organisation has its business; every organisation is ‘a business’.

Hence in every organisation, the business of the business is whatever the business of that organisation happens to be – whether it’s focussed on monetary profit, or not. If it’s about ‘busyness’, it’s business.

Which means, in turn, that every organisation has its own business-architecture – whatever type of organisation it may be.

Business-architecture is the architecture of the business of the business – whatever that organisation and its business might be.

More practically, the part of the organisation that’s usually called ‘the business’ tends to focus more on the why and how of the business – rather than the who and when and where and with-what that tends to be more the focus of everyday operations. It tends to be about things like business-models, business-strategy, financials, forecasts, performance, monitoring, all the bigger-picture stuff. Hence, in turn, that’s where business-architecture would usually place most of its attention.

And hence, for practical reasons – typically because of the need for specific skills and suchlike – business-architecture will tend to be a domain-architecture focussed on that specific subsection of the organisation’s activity, rather than the unifying architecture-of-the-organisation-as-a-whole.

Which is why, for practical reasons, there usually needs to be a distinction between business-architecture – the architecture of the business of the business – and enterprise-architecture – the unifying architecture of the overall organisation and its relationship with its broader business-context, linking all of the architecture-domains together. There’s also the distinction that business-architecture tends to look inside-in or inside-out, whereas a true ‘architecture of the enterprise’ also needs to look outside-in and even outside-out.

So, in summary:

  • every organisation is also ‘a business’
  • the business of an organisation is whatever the organisation does, for whatever business-reasons and business-drivers
  • every organisation has a business-architecture that describes the structure and story of ‘the business of the business’
  • enterprise-architecture – as ‘the architecture of the enterprise’ – usually has a broader scope than business-architecture – as ‘the architecture of the business of the business’

I hope that makes things a bit simpler to work with?