Blog - The 4 Ws of business architecture

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The 4 Ws of business architecture

Business architecture: what, why, where, and when

Sue Alemann | November 4, 2015

Whoever said “What you don’t know can’t hurt you” obviously wasn’t a business architect.

How many times have you been blindsided by a critical piece of missing information or an unexpected consequence of a business decision? How many strategies have you seen created and then left on the shelf because there was no way to operationalize them? If this sounds familiar, you’re going to love business architecture.

Let me explain.

What is business architecture?

The unique design of your business.

Business architecture allows an organization to fully understand its people, processes, and technology, so it can create roadmaps that clearly connect the moving pieces with the strategic goals.

With a business architecture effectively in place, everyone can unite to achieve organizational goals.

Why business architecture?

Business architecture is to the business what IT architecture is to technology.

You wouldn’t consider making significant investments in your business without asking your enterprise architect to evaluate the scope of the work and change impacts to the technology using an IT architecture model. And yet, we do exactly that with our far-more-complex business ecosystems.

Business architecture is about the business, by the business, for the business. A business architect evaluates the scope of the work and change impacts to the business using a business architecture model. There is no better way to understand your business—how it works, its strengths and weaknesses, and the value that it delivers.

Business architecture is about the business, by the business, for the business.

Where can I use it?

Business architecture can be used for an entire business, or a subset of it.

A single business architecture model spans business units and may even cross organizational boundaries, making it an amazing tool for providing holistic views of an entire enterprise. But it doesn’t end there.

The model can be deconstructed to represent whatever groupings a business uses to function—such as business units, initiatives, customer views, and new product launches. Any changes to the business as a result of these initiatives are then represented back into the model so that their impacts are understood across the entire business and will be automatically accounted for by others planning change in the future.

When can I use it?

Business architecture is for any scenario that requires visibility into how a business functions.

Business architecture creates a direct connection from strategy to operations, so that business leaders can make informed decisions about which projects to invest in, create roadmaps, and measure results.

Consider the situations and questions posed below. Without a business architecture in place, they may seem daunting. Establishing a model that shows what your business does and how it does it, and directly connects operations to your strategy, changes the equation.

  • Merger, acquisition, or divestiture: What systems do we keep or drop? What should the new org structure look like?
  • Supply chain streamlining: Are there any shared capabilities, processes, and systems that can be normalized?
  • Product and service development: Where are our customer value-driven capabilities and technologies that could speed delivery?
  • Outsourcing: What are the full impacts to our people, technology, and customers? Which parts of the organization are best suited to outsourcing? What are the risks?
  • Market disruption: What are the unique strengths of our business that can be used for competitive advantage?
  • Portfolio planning: Do we have a combined view of all our IT and business initiatives? Are our initiatives aligned to our strategic goals? Are there areas of change saturation in our business or technology stack that could put our programs at risk?
  • Project scoping: Who are all the stakeholders? What systems are in scope? What processes need to be rewritten or retired? How do I know the project delivered the expected value?

Sue Alemann is a leader in Slalom Seattle’s strategy and operations practice and a Certified Business Architect (CBA)®, specializing in strategy execution through business architecture. She is a primary author of A Guide to the Business Architecture Body of Knowledge® (BIZBOK GUIDE®). Connect with Sue on LinkedIn.


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