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Many (flawed) Definitions of Business Architecture

Many (flawed) Definitions of Business Architecture

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Not long ago, I attempted to create a refined definition of “business architecture.”  I felt compelled to do so because the definition that I found in the Business Architecture Guild’s BizBOK (Guide to the Business Architecture Body of Knowledge) defined the word “business architecture” in terms of an artifact (a thing).  In my eyes, that "thing" already had a name, and creating a new name for an old thing, while forgetting the practice that creates part of it, seemed like a mistake.

Literally, within minutes of posting a question on LinkedIn about my definition, I found that there had already been a raging debate about the definition of the term “Business Architecture.”  (egg on my face).  So I went through that other discussion and picked up the various definitions I found there.  I also scanned the web looking for additional definitions, and found a few. 

The list of definitions that I found is copied here.  Note that, at the bottom of this post, I will make some observations about these entries and what it says about the maturity of our definitions.  If you’d like to skip the list of definitions, I encourage you to scroll down and look for the analysis.  The surprising conclusion (I’ll spoil the surprise) is that every one of them is flawed, including mine.  Read on.

List of definitions of business architecture

Below is a list of various definitions of business architecture, drawn from a LinkedIn Discussion in the Business Architecture Community, started by Terry Roach.  This list was extracted from LinkedIn on September 9th, 2012.  In addition to the discussion on LinkedIn, I searched the Internet (using Bing, of course) to find additional definitions.  Note that if a definition is cited in multiple locations, it appears in the table below only once, citing the original source.

For each definition, I captured its source and two attributes of the definition: the scope and the perspective.

Scope: The definitions tend to vary about whether they describe one or more of these three aspects of business architecture:

  • Contents – Treats Business Architecture as a noun and describes the contents of it.
  • Purpose – Describes the reason for either performing or creating a business architecture.
  • Activities – Describes some of the activities that intersect the performance of, or management of, business architecture.

Perspective: Each definition takes one of these two perspectives: Either Business Architecture is a thing or a process.   

Who

Scope

Perspective

Text

Terry Roach

Contents

Thing

"A business architecture articulates organisational objectives and associated strategies in a conceptual model of the domain, the behaviour and the governance of business operations. "

Bruce McNaughton

Contents

Thing

"The business strategy, governance, organization, and key business process information, as well as the interaction among these concepts." (derived from TOGAF)

Sunil Muduli

Contents, Activities

Process

Business Architecture is about Modeling/Capturing Business Motivation, Capability, Process (Level 0 & 1) and People(Role/Responsibility)

Rubina Polovina

Contents, Purpose

Thing

Business Architecture—A model of real-world that contains discourse relevant for an IT-intensive endeavor (or, simply, IT endeavor)

OMG Business Architecture Group

Contents, Purpose

Thing

a blueprint of the enterprise that provides a common understanding of the organization and is used to align strategic objectives and tactical demands. (Bizbok 2.1)

Tim Blaxall

Purpose, Activities

Process

Business Architecture helps to implement our business strategy by designing the developments needed in the way our business operates

The Open Group Architecture Framework [TOGAF]

Contents

Thing

Overview: The Business Architecture defines the business strategy, governance, organization, and key business processes.

Definition: A description of the structure and interaction between the business strategy, organization, functions, business processes, and information needs. (TOGAF 9.1, Section 3.22)

Taurai Christopher Ushewokunze

Activities

Process

Business Architecture is the process of planning, designing and implementing macro level to micro level business structures at a minimum it defines the relationships between finance, marketing, operations and technology.

Nick Ananin

Activities

Process

Business Architecture is the process and outcomes of planning, designing and building a system that delivers tradable products (goods, services etc) that are of value to customers.

/Also/

Definition of Business Architecture = "An architecture applied to a business system".

Michael Poulin

Contents

Thing

Enterprise Business Architecture is architecture that comprises business functionality and business informational models, positions itself across business administrative and organisational enterprise structures, and that transforms goals and objectives defined in a business enterprise model and refined in the Strategic Business Plans into the functional and informational definition for a corporate business

Joanne Dong

Contents, Purpose

Thing

Business Architecture is a holistic set of descriptive representations of the different components of the business and their relationships. The purpose of a business architecture is to ensure proper alignments and integration among the components.

Ralph Whittle

Contents

Thing

Informal: the Business Architecture is a blueprint of the enterprise built using architectural disciplines to improve performance.

Formal: The Business Architecture defines the enterprise value streams and their relationships to all external entities, other enterprise value streams, and the events that trigger instantiation. It is a definition of what the enterprise must produce to satisfy its customers, compete in a market, deal with its suppliers, sustain operations, and care for its employees. (Source)

Tim Manning

Activities, Purpose

Process

Business Architecture is a discipline and set of methods for the holistic design of organisations. The architecture of a business is “the arrangement of the functions and features that achieve a given set of business objectives” (adapted from King, 2010).

Sam Holcman

Purpose, Activities

Process

Business Architecture is explicitly representing an organization’s desired state and as-is state, through a set of independent, non-redundant artifacts, defining how these artifacts relate with each other, and developing a set of prioritized, aligned capabilities needed to meet the organization’s goals, communicating this understanding to stakeholders, and advancing the organization from its as-is state to its desired state. (BACOE, EACOE)

Nick Malik

Activities, Purpose

Process

Formal: Business Architecture is
(1.) 1. A specialization of the Enterprise Architecture business function that collects and manages functional, structural, and motivation-related information using a rigorous scientific and engineered approach for the purposes of business design, functional improvement, motivational alignment and decision support.
(2.) One of the four traditional domains of Enterprise Architecture.
Informal: Business Architecture -- A specialization of the Enterprise Architecture business function that uses science and engineering to design and implement business functional and process improvements and strategically-aligned change initiatives.

Derek Miers (Forrester)

Activities, Purpose

Process

An organized and repeatable approach to describe and analyze an organization’s business and operating models to support a wide variety of organizational change purposes; from cost reduction and restructuring, to process change and transformation.

Art Caston (as cited by Dave Woods)

Activities, Purpose

Process

Business Architecture supports business opportunity assessments, strategy development, and business transformation program planning by creating various business reference models, populating these reference models with current business information, and creating integrated target architecture models to show future market positioning, product and service capabilities, enterprise structure and responsibilities, and proposed business partner relationships. These target models are used by related business planning functions to structure, organize, and govern related transformation programs.

IASA (as cited by Kevin in comments below)

 Contents

 Thing

A business architecture is a part of an enterprise architecture related to architectural organization of business, and the documents and diagrams that describe that architectural organization.

Ben Gray

Contents, Purpose

Thing

A business architecture [noun] helps a client (the business owner/director) to better understand the landscape (business environment, context, or market); understand their choices and constraints; and articulate their vision (requirements) such that designers (of processes, roles, systems, apps, etc) can create a coherent set of artefacts that can be used to plan and build/buy and test against

 

Analysis of the definitions of business architecture

The first thing to notice is that there are PLENTY of definitions of business architecture.  I have listed seventeen (20) definitions above from seventeen (17) people.  If I find more definitions, I may add them to the list, but I probably won’t update the numbers in the analysis below (too much hassle).   It is interesting to note that very few of the respondents referred to a pre-existing definition from a reliable source (like TOGAF, OMG, or Forrester). 

I did a little categorizing as I went, and you can see that effort in the table above.  The reason for doing the categorizing is to understand what the community considered important to include in a definition.  Think about that for a minute.  A definition captures the important distinctions of a concept, sufficient to clearly differentiate that concept from other, potentially similar, ones.  Definitions “should” be minimal, but they don’t have to be.  The folks who contributed were not trying to make a perfect definition.  They were trying to provide all the information that they found important.  So let’s look at what the contributors found important.  Of the 20 definitions provided, the numbers were VERY evenly split…

Definitions Containing Activities Purpose Contents
  10 10 11

As for the other attribute, it highly correlated to the numbers above.  Everyone who described business architecture in terms of “activities” was describing a process.  All other definitions described a thing.  The number of definitions was EVENLY SPLIT between the two.

Definitions describing a Process a Thing
  10 10

(Note: Sunil described the process of capturing contents without describing where those contents would go.  Therefore, his definition described activities and contents, but still described a process.  Hence, the number of definitions describing contents does not equal the number that describe business architecture as a “thing”)

What can we draw from this: of the respondents to that thread on LinkedIn, and from various sources around the Internet, there is NO CONSENSUS on whether business architecture is a process or a thing. 

Since a definition describes how a word is used, and is NOT a reflection on what we want it to mean, and given that 20 different definitions submitted describe the term in two different ways… I would consider it likely that the term is used in both ways (both as a process and as a thing). 

Next Steps

Assuming that my analysis is correct, EVERY SINGLE DEFINITION ABOVE IS WRONG (including mine).  All of them define business architecture in terms of either a process or a thing.  Not one define the term to have two meanings.  Yet the term ‘business architecture’ clearly has two meanings!

My suggestion to the reliable sources for the definition of business architecture: update your definition to include both sides of this coin.  I will do the same.  Note that I will not update the numbers in the analysis to reflect that change. 

  • Adding IASA's definition of Business Architecture

    "A business architecture is a part of an enterprise architecture related to architectural organization of business, and the documents and diagrams that describe that architectural organization."

  • In reading those definitions one thing occurred to me.  I have never met an Architect who has had the privilege of designing a/the business up front.  For most it is a forensic process.  The entire debate reminds me of the movements for structuralism and functionalism in the [Cultural|Social] Anthropology in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

    I'm sure an Anthropologist would see a Business Architect as an untrained ethnographer.

  • Nick,

    I've tried to post my comment but it didn't work. Then Tom told me I have to post it twice but in the mean time I put an extended version of my comment here - www.strategicstructures.com

    Regards,

    Ivo

  • Hi Nick,

    I just stumbled across a presentation by Doug McDavid (when he was still at IBM Research) from November 2007 (no less!) called The Business Architect - An Emerging Role, in which he defines BA in the two ways that you are looking for:

    "Business Architecture is the art and science of delivering coherent, dynamic and complete business designs to drive successful business transformation [Process]. It is an architectural view of business [Thing] that organizes:

    - A rigorous description of current and future states of the business as well as the intent and realization of business operations and initiatives;

    - The definition of initiatives to measure and improve business performance and realize strategic business intent; and

    - The context for IT transition planning and roadmap development."

    He also cites The Open Group's BA Working Group definition at the time:

    "An enterprise’s properties (including structure) that are essential for its ability to achieve its mission in the enterprise’s context. Business Architecture has three [!!!] meanings:

    - The essential properties;

    - Their representation; and

    - The associated discipline.”

    What's funny is that it's taken a whole 5 years to come full circle on this - it seems Doug was almost there way back then!

    Regards,

    Stephen Marshall

  • Hi Stephen,

    I'm not surprised that Doug was that far ahead of the pack.  I've chatted with him on LinkedIn and he's one sharp guy.  

    Interesting: the BAWG changed their definition in the intervening time.  The current definition is listed as the OMG BASIG, which defines BA only in terms of the thing and not the process, even though the prior definition included both.  

  • Hi Nick,

    This was my definition:

    "Business Architecture enables stakeholders to make key business decisions by taking an integrated view of the business and aligning all the various moving parts in an adaptive 360° model"

    Obviously you could add aspects around transformation but there is a fine line between business architecture and process architecture (where you start to define the how)

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