Application architecture, BPM must align objectives

William Ulrich carried the flag of application modernization over many years. But the author, trainer and consultant ultimately concluded that maturing programming languages and legacy software and hardware platforms are not the real problem.

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What is important, avowed Ulrich, president of TSG Inc. in Soquel, Calif., is that application and data architectures align with the vision of the business. This has to happen in the face of technology advances that can obscure or overshadow business objectives. 

Since cloud computing has hit like a technology hurricane, smartphone applications and big data analytics have advanced to challenge the status quo. Cloud technologies, like others, should be viewed in the context of business capabilities and benefits, said Ulrich, who carries forward these ideas today as co-founder of the Business Architecture Guild and co-chair of two separate Object Management Group working groups.

"Cloud is changing," he said. "People are figuring it out. The first wave was people looking at it as a way to not have to pay so much for hardware anymore. But I think a smarter way is to look at certain business automations or business capabilities that lend themselves much more readily to cloud and can yield greater business benefit."

The Business Architect Guild's charter says business architecture "articulates the structure of an enterprise in terms of its capabilities, governance structure, business processes, and business information." Key here is the business capability -- that is, the charter states, "'what' the organization does," whereas the business processes "are 'how' the organization executes its capabilities." Business architecture "considers all external actors to an enterprise (including its customers, suppliers, and regulators) to ensure," in the guild's terms, "that flow in and out of the enterprise are captured."

To prepare their architectures for a game changer like the cloud, companies have their work cut out for them, Ulrich said.

"There are a number of architectural hurdles that organizations have to overcome to get from where they are today to where they want to go," he said. "I think business architecture will play a big role in the ability to articulate what capabilities to have in the cloud to figure out a balanced view on that."

Ulrich insisted that technology initiatives must be handled in a way that supports business transformation. The organization must be on such an agile footing that it can change when needed. If you focus on business architecture, what can that approach bring to software portfolio analysis? Or legacy systems or cloud computing? 

"You can graduate to a business-driven investment model for the IT organization versus a technology-driven investment model," Ulrich said. The purveyor of the technology-driven approach would seem to say, "I want to replace these assets because they're not on the right platform."

The purveyor of the business-driven model would instead say, "I want to bring in these capabilities, and by the way, part of what has to happen for that is that I've got to rework, modernize or otherwise replace or retool a number of systems involved in supporting those capabilities," Ulrich said. "You can start to see that cross-mapping impact right there."

IT-business alignment is oft discussed. Still, too often the business side and the technology side end up on divergent paths. Ulrich's and others' notion of business architecture puts business objectives in the driver's seat. A best practice he cites is to align business strategy, vision and objectives to the business architecture.

"This is becoming a much bigger practice where the business people are using [business architecture principles] totally outside of the IT context to look at what their business vision is, how their objectives are aligned to their vision and then to ask, 'What are the impacts on our business from a capability and a value perspective and an information perspective?' Then they ask if these are areas to invest in," he said.

Making decisions in a return on investment context is important, connecting portfolio and technology choices to value, Ulrich said. Best practices call teams to incorporate the concepts of capability-based costing and value-stream-based prioritization into their decision making.

"You can take that and say, 'Here are the areas we want to invest in, and here is how we want to lay out our priorities,'" Ulrich said. In turn, you can drive that through a strategy that will turn it into actionable results.

"You can really use business architecture to frame people's thinking in a different way to come up with much more innovative business designs and ultimately solution architectures that are going to solve business problems," he said. This includes "the ability to use business architecture to drive service architecture on the IT side and to drive design strategies -- like [BPM] case management -- that obviously need to align to the services strategy."

This was first published in November 2012

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