TOG Open Business Architecture standard is, actually, about IT transformation

Published on August 17, 2017, on LinkedIn

I’d like to thank Dr. Giovanni Traverso of Huawei for the description of the Open Business Architecture (O-BA) standard in his presentation at The Open Group Shanghai 2016 Summit. It is not easy to access the standard being not a member of The Open Group (TOG) (interesting, whom is it written for?). Dr. Traverso has explained that “the O-BA standard focuses on transformation as a discipline to support business decision-making and bridge business and ICT”.

This fact alone can raise a flag – how a transformation, which is an outcome of the practice of Business Architects can be a discipline on its own? Every company operates in cycles specified via new corporate strategy. These cycles can lead to the business transformations, though not always necessary. A transformation within IT is a different story and its business value can be significant or second to none – it depends on the transformation drivers and purposes. Dr. Traverso has illustrated the O-BA standard demonstrating how it could serve governments and businesses struggling to become “digital”. Well, does this mean that this standard is about “digital”? Does it pretend to be a directive for making Business Architecture digital?

To answer this question, we have to clearly understand what “Business Architecture” means in this context. Knowing something about TOG and its standards, I can assume that this “Business Architecture” (BA) is not about an architecture of business organisation, but about a very specific view that IT departments take on the business of its own companies. The name of the standard includes an adjective “Open”. I suspect that this is simply an inheritance from the name “The Open Group”. The fact that this standard is generated in the close The Open Group, as well as it seems to be based on the work of the close Business Architecture Guild, makes difficulties to me to interpret it in any ‘open’ way. 

As Dr. Traverso stated, the “O-BA describes a typical transformation lifecycle providing a framework for two dimensions of traceability: vertical (from strategy to competitive assessment to investment to implementation and outcomes) and horizontal (across different domains of the organization/ecosystem). To me, this is confusing: I’d like to look at one Business that has allusions about any operational standard. At the same time, in IT this is a usual matter. It may be only me, but I never heard about a competitive assessment of investment in implementation; competitive with what? In ICT, an investment is, indeed, strongly depends on the competitive selection of vendors, tools and technologies. It is unlikely and exceptional that business transformation run across domains of the organization, which is accepted as “boiling an ocean”; this happens eventually when new CEO comes or in cases of M&A, but no standards are required for this. In the contrast, if a transformation takes place in ICT servicing multiple organisation’s domains, then we need a regulation of such makeover.

Usually, those who really architect the corporate business think through a business transformation and related allocation of finance for the operational business first and only then consider investments in the resources such as IT. This, once again, points to ICT as the subject of O-BA standard. I’ve noticed that the O-BA description does not even mention the corporate Target Operating Model as a purpose and goal of business transformation meaning that the O-BA very unlikely relates to business.

Dr. Traverso kindly enumerated questions that the O-BA is supposed to answer when bridging between business and ICT. I’d like to overview them to find out if business expects any new ICT answers, i.e. are we talking about building a bridge from both sides or it is just an attempt of filling the agility gap from the ICT side. Thus,

·       Q: “How to ensure a common understanding of the transformation within the organization?”

·      A: a corporate business had and has several ways for reaching this understanding even before IT/ICT is informed about a need of a transformation. Another matter is if we talk about understanding inside IT/ICT; well, this appears not as a bridge, but as a directive from the “army headquarter” to the “division or regiment headquarter”. If we talk about transformation in IT and a need to explain it to the business stakeholders and decision-makers, yes, it is a problem to be solved, but I have assumed this cannot be standardised because one party of the two in this process does not recognise the standard.

·       Q: “How to align an organization and its constituents towards the goal?”

·      A: this is also a well-known set of methods in a corporate business management. If mentioned alignment relates to the IT/ICT, this is again a one-side problem though this can be standardised. It also means that this problem is only for IT’s Business Architects. The Architect of the Business (in business) need to know only whether IT capabilities are suitable for the current and target (strategic) business tasks; if not, the company has to look up for the external technology resources.

·       Q: “Do we have the necessary skills and what changes should we drive, even in our organization’s culture?”

·      A: This is one of the first questions asked by the Architects of Business for decades before the O-BA has been created. If IT/ICT needs a standard for this, it explains the problem with agility. When Architects of Business define business capabilities, they involve operational and, sometimes, IT managers to set the tasks for them. These tasks/requirements draw necessary skills and changes, as well as the corporate culture adjustment, if needed. The IT has to deliver against those tasks and a standard can help, while this is, still, a one-side problem.

·       Q: “How to unleash technology-driven innovation to lead business model innovation, as well as the other way around?”

·      A:  Before finding “how to unleash technology-driven innovation to lead business model innovation” it is necessary to answer another question – who is interested in this, who and why need this. It requires a serious work to demonstrate that a certain technology-driven innovation has any feasible value in business. I think that even in the era of digitalisation the “horse should not drive the cart” – it is still a prerogative of the driver. Changes of the business model in its business meaning (which is different from what IT sees) are driven by the market needs/demand/policies/laws and their dynamics. For example, if IT provides Cloud Computing, which is not compatible with the industry business regulations, the value of this innovation is minimal; if IT finds a new dependency between customer characteristics, it does not mean that this discovery would have enough business efficiency to be implemented. According to recent GDPR (regulation), many technology innovations, created without consideration of business ownership rules, can bring much more troubles to the business than benefits.

·       Q: “How processes and organization are going to be impacted?”

·      A: if IT/ICT conducts a transformation, it, indeed, needs to concern of such impact. Architects of Business usually deal with this matter based on the strategy and market changes, and the architectural solutions cascading top-down drive the transformation and its technology needs, not the other way around.  

·       Q: “How to identify priorities?”

·      A: Priorities for delivery by IT are embedded in the capability deployment plans in the architectural solutions provided by Architects of Business (see featured article at the Service page of Architecture of Business. If IT does not provide for these priorities, it looks for troubles: IT is a resource of business capabilities and if it delivers something instead of that is required, another provider will be engaged (this is the condition of modern globalised market).

·       Q: “What about dependencies and risks?”

·       A: These are embedded in the architectural decisions and solutions before business transformation starts. Additional risks can come up from ICT implementation and Architects of Business consider them as risks of any other resources. It does not seem that IT’s BAs can do much about risks. However, if IT creates unreported “dependencies by implementation”, the risk of IT/ICT as a resource quickly increases. This also does not seem that IT’s BAs can do much about it.

·       “How to focus investments and ensure that the desired business outcomes will be achieved?”

·      A: The investments into functional and informational aspects of architectural solutions are controlled by Architect of Business. One of the major objectives of the work of Architects of Business is to “ensure that the desired business outcomes will be achieved” and to be achieved in the integral and flexible manner. The mechanism for investment allocation and preservation of the target business outcome is included in the business capabilities based architectural solutions designed by Architects of Business [see a book “Business Capabilities in a Dynamic Market”, ISBN: 978-09575199-3-0, 2015] and approved by CxO executives and Board.

·       Q: “How our partners and channels are going to be impacted?”

·      A: This is a legitimate question if you plan transformation bottom-up or from a side; if you do this top-down, from the top of the corporate business, dealing with partners and channels is simply defined or re-defined in the architectural solutions on the “as needed” or risk minimisation basis.

·       “How our customers/users’ experience is going to be impacted?”

·      A: Well this is one of the first questions asked when a new Strategy is articulated and a new change in the market should be adopted. If this question means only the user experience delivered via communication channels, this is indeed ICT issue, but it is so natural and routine that I do not see needs for a standard for this matter.

Reading about the O-BA standard, I am getting a strong impression that TOG has issued it to get a leadership position over practice of digital transformations in the companies; this does not really relate to architecture of business and business transformations. It is OK, but it would be much fairer to clearly point at the IT and not pretending to speak about a “corporate” transformation and “Business Architecture”. In our days, technical digital transformation cannot drive business transformation simply because the former is quite vague on business values; if technology can do something, it still does not mean business wants or needs it.

From the descriptions and explanations provided by Dr. Traverso, I cannot see much relevance of the O-BA standard to the business of enterprises. Moreover, I’ve read in the recent research that business stakeholders in mass are disappointed with outcomes of some digital initiatives. If the O-BA standard is supplemental to TOGAF, I do not have any objections. However, if it pretends to address a corporate-wide transformation, I do not see its importance.

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