Establishing business architecture standards: an industry imperative

The advantages that standardization provides to consumers and practitioners apply to the discipline of business architecture.

This article is a summary of a whitepaper by William Ulrich and Daniel Lambert with the same title.

Standards, based on the collective experiences of communities of practice, form the basis for advancing the maturity of a given discipline. As that discipline matures and the community of practice grows, standards serve as a critical foundation for enabling scalability and ensuring the integrity of the results.

Standards form the fundamental building blocks for a wide variety of fields. Accountants, manufacturers, engineers, software developers and a range of other professionals rely on standards. The constraints that standards may impose on some individuals are easily offset by the numerous advantages that they provide to consumers and practitioners. The same benefits of standardization also apply to the discipline of business architecture.

Benefits of standards adoption

When considering the impact of standards, we can look at the railway industry. Consider the discrepancies in railway track gauge size in the early 1800s. There were over a dozen gauge sizes used across the U.S. “Before standard gauge, freight would be loaded into railroad cars at the factory, then moved from one car to another when crossing from one railway to the next. The standard gauge allowed one car to go from origin to destination without being unloaded. This provided access to the trade market which would explode across the continent over the next decade.” (Quote from ‘Standard Gauge’)

As the railroad example demonstrates, standards assured interoperability. More modern examples abound. Today’s smart phones and the Internet would not be so widely used without standards. The purveyors of AOL and Palm PDA devices learned this the hard way. It is through the application of standards that the credibility of new products and markets are validated. Standards fuel the implementation of technologies that transform the way we live, work, and communicate.

Business architecture: why standardization?

To date, business architecture has delivered significant benefits to businesses worldwide. Conversely, many businesses have only scratched the surface as far as exercising business architecture’s full potential. Yet business architecture continues to grow more popular and, as a result, has reached a critical tipping point that now demands standardization.

Maximizing the benefits of business architecture requires a robust business “knowledgebase” that businesses can leverage for business planning and deployment. In addition, maturing the practice requires providing guidance on how business architecture integrates with related disciplines, including information technology (IT) practices. As in-house business architecture teams evolve their practice, the need to formalize industry standards grows increasingly important to ensure the integrity of the results and related benefits mentioned in Table 1 of the whitepaper.

Standards for business architecture: now and in the future

Business architecture standardization is well underway on multiple fronts. For example, there is a growing adoption of a common set of business architecture best practices, based on principles established in “A Guide to the Business Architecture Body of Knowledge” or “BIZBOK Guide,” which frames additional standards related perspectives that enable business architecture content and infrastructure management. This business architecture knowledgebase represents all business architecture domains and related interdisciplinary perspectives in a formalized way that enables various business stakeholders to reference information about the business when they need it and in a form, that is useful to them.

For example, planning and portfolio management teams would be interested in viewing impacted value streams and capabilities associated with a given program. The knowledgebase would readily serve as a source for this information and a myriad of other related content as required by the audience interested in the information. A formally defined business architecture knowledgebase enables tool vendors to implement best practice-aligned solutions and allows business professionals to leverage a knowledgebase that aligns to best practices.

A knowledgebase is most effectively deployed when it is based on a formalized structure that leverages a business architecture metamodel, which establishes the means for a tool vendor to formalize how they represent and cross-reference business architecture domains. In addition, the metamodel provides a means by which any metamodel-conforming tool may exchange content with another metamodel-conformant tool, which is particularly relevant to larger companies in need of business/IT transformation.

Alignment to related disciplines is the last key area of standardization, like IT architecture, business process management, case management, and requirements management. For example, the business architecture knowledgebase defines relationships between capabilities and business processes via a formal association to the Business Process Model and Notation (BPMN) standard. Similar relationships are established to the Business Motivation Model (BMM) and Case Management Modeling Notation (CMMN).

Perhaps one of the more widely known alignments to business architecture and IT architecture is “The Open Group Architecture Framework” (TOGAF) standard. While the BIZBOK defines the association between business architecture and various TOGAF elements, Open Group has work underway to similarly align to business architecture from the other direction. For example, the Capability Guide and the Value Stream Guide align nicely with the Business Architecture Guild’s principles and practices as defined in the BIZBOK.

Pathway to business architecture standardization

While the BIZBOK provides knowledgebase usage guidelines for practitioners, there is no formal standard in place now to align best practices in a formal standard. Fortunately, work is underway.

The Object Management Group (OMG) has issued a request for proposal (RFP) for a Business Architecture Core Metamodel (BACM). RFP submissions are due in March 2018 with standardization to follow. To fulfill the RFP demands, a submission must not only define a basic metamodel for business architecture but must also discuss how that metamodel aligns to other standards. This resulting BACM standard will ideally establish a baseline that formalizes support for best practices and ensure that enabling tools and technologies are aligned to best practices.

In addition, a reworking of TOGAF Phase A (the strategy phase) is well underway to adopt a more industry aligned approach to business architecture that will probably be available in the next TOGAF release.

In summary, widely disseminated best practices of business architecture via the BIZBOK Guide has established a global community of practice. It is now time for the standards community to catch up. The good news is that these efforts are well underway and the winners at the end of this journey will be the growing number of organizations who are using business architecture today.

William Ulrich is President of TSG, Inc., Partner at Business Architecture Associates, Co-founder and President of the Business Architecture Guild, Co-chair of the OMG Architecture-Driven Modernization (ADM) Task Force, and Cutter Fellow.

Daniel Lambert is a marketing & finance strategist and entrepreneur assisting companies in their growth, their business architecture and ultimately their digital transformation. He has worked with financial institutions, insurance, healthcare, pharmaceuticals, logistics & transportation, computer software, telecom and public sector organizations.

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