Monday, March 02, 2009

Missing-link between Business Architecture and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)!!!

Before we embark on the effort of establishing a link between Business Architecture and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) here is an attempt at creating a loose working definition for each.

SOA is an architectural paradigm that allows one to model, build and measure reusable business components that can be flexibly assembled to offer a business service.

Business Architecture is an architecture style that structures the accountability over the most important business activities (for instance production, distribution, marketing, etc।) and/or the economic activities (for instance manufacturing, assembly, transport, wholesale, etc.) into domains.

To begin with here are a few key SOA principals that all apply to the realm of Business Architecture. Principals of loose coupling, abstraction, reuse and interoperability (of both messages and the operations) all of which facilitate composition of more course grained business services.

So what does a Business Architecture effort entail and how is SOA relevant to the discipline of Business Architecture? Business Architecture should focus on broad reusable business components that can be turned into or wrapped into reusable service components and/or business services. The term reuse has received a bad wrap but when looked at from the lens of being able to offer enterprise wide consistency and cross-business area interoperability one begins to realize that this very attribute of “reuse” has the potential to deliver speed to market and cost reduction both of which are touted to be powerful selling points for SOA. From this perspective Business Architecture can be seen as a precursor to SOA.

Business Architecture should be designed to help align the right business operating model (low cost services provider or innovation oriented service provider or niche services provider or a service provider that offers low cost processing to meet regulatory compliance needs etc.) with the value chains and the component business processes. Following this effort one would need to study how to alter business activities and those value chains that are directly impacted by the changing business needs (which are external influences to the operating environment). Without undertaking this study it is not possible to identify "appropriate" business strategies that fit the underlying operating model chosen by the business. This effort has to precede SOA based service definition work as this thought process enables rationalization of the current state “service worthy assets” and helps in the identification of business service interface for these assets.

Given the above description of the discipline of Business Architecture one would logically arrive at the conclusion that for the concept of Business Architecture to truly take root in any organization it is imperative that business strategy be considered the "driver" of the Business Architecture effort(s). In addition one will notice that package solutions and infrastructure / frameworks can only be treated as an enabler for the identification of business optimization opportunities (within the value chains and their component business processes) but are definitely not the drivers of Business Architecture work or SOA work. There are some other considerations as well such as the role of a Business Architect, the executive sponsorship for Business Architecture etc.

The role of a Business Architect is a critical aspect of Business Architecture to succeed. Since the “business aspect” of Business Architecture is important finding someone with the right type of business knowledge to fulfill the role of Business Architect would be a must have. Also, having someone with the ability to apply the philosophy of architectural abstractions to the business domain is important. Fortunately for us architects this is great news as some of the lessons learnt from SOA can now be easily translated to the realm of Business Architecture long as we have the right level of business expertise as well.

Having said that, Business Architects will need to be cognizant of the fact that they have to strike a fine balance between their technical and business skills. In addition, people in this role have to be careful to not engage in prematurely promoting the principal of business process abstraction (a core architectural principle), without first establishing the right foundation for introduction of this concept. The reason is that the Lines of Business owners possess a very keen sense of pride in being “unique” and abstractions often lead to the erosion of or removal of “unique” customizations where ever these interfere with the larger scale intent of the business process/ value chain.

Business Architects need to have enough business savvy to engage with their business partners on an equal footing. They have to first express the nuances of the various problem domains before they start the process of abstracting and drawing parallels across the business processes owned by the multiple Lines of Business. Even during this phase Business Architects have to be able to explain these abstractions in business syntax and show how the competitive advantage “uniqueness” can still be incorporated without loosing operational efficiency. To be able to articulate the concept in business lingo and to tie this to financial impact by walking through the underlying analysis is the only way to get business buy-in given that these are the metrics up on which Lines of Business owners are measured. If not done by garnering the right partnerships the resultant enterprise-wide operational efficiency or competitive advantage benefits would never be realized.

If one cannot find this Business Architect, a cross-functional team with complimentary skills may be able to pull this off. In order for such a cross-functional team to be able to execute effectively on any large scale Business Architectural/ SOA effort it must have the support of a prominent executive sponsor. The executive sponsor has to be able to articulate business strategies, and influence key representatives of the Lines of Business to collaborate with a group such as the Enterprise Architecture Group. Executive support of such a team enables it to effectively analyze and abstract broad Business Architectural constructs and can help define and drive business solutions to implement business strategies that align with the chosen operating model of the organization.

An oft asked question on executive sponsorship is whether it is the CIO or the CEO and the influence that technology has on such an effort. This depends on the type of organization, the charisma of the CIO and the business acumen of the CIO vs. the technical acumen of the CEO. Also, key to this decision is whether technology is a business driver for this organization or is at least a key component for driving the operating margins.

Finally, for Business Architecture, the related SOA work and the business solutions to be considered part of a sustainable model this body of work has to deliver tangible and measurable benefits. The measures and the value proposition will have to be agreed upon at the outset of embarking on this path/ journey. In addition this multi-step journey has to be associated with a set of well-understood and well-published multi-year target business deliverables.

For some additional information on Business Architecture please review content on related blogs:
Business Architecture – Process Architecture and Information Architecture!
Key Best Practices - What is Service Orientation?

Thanks in advance for your feedback.
Surekha -
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