Business Architecture in the New Normal

Aug 1, 2014
Written by
Remco Blom
Remco Blom

Business Architecture in the New Normal

Business architecture is a challenging capability. Designing the business, optimizing its processes and streamlining the way information is collected and used is very interesting, but most of all very difficult. I read a very interesting blog post by KLM’s SVP e-commerce Mr. Martijn van der Zee: “I Have a Lack of Strategic Vision” in which he points out that strategic visions in PowerPoint won’t cut-it for Air France-KLM in the digital era we are in today.

He gives a number of reasons why long-term strategic plans are not working for him:

  1. Vision documents or strategy PowerPoints are drafted from an internal perspective (the company, or the department of a specific employee).
  2. These documents present a simplified overview of what’s happening in the outside world.
  3. The author would feel really good about the document and would confuse strategic vision and effort with progress.

“In this new digital world, nobody knows where we’re going. The only way to get a glimpse of what’s happening is by trying to understand what our customer wants, build a working prototype and test it in the real world. Fail fast and often. PowerPoints won’t help you do that; building, testing and tweaking will.”

Projects and experiments are all part of a learning cycle in organizations. John Boyd introduced the OODA-loop to express a decision cycle of observe, orient, decide, and act. Since the speed of opportunities passing by is increasing, your organization need to speed up its OODA-cycle. How do you contribute to the OODA-loop of your organization?

John Boyd’s OODA Loop

The classic Architects view
Architects typically will argue that the temporary websites and databases behind the suggested prototypes tend to stay a little longer than innovators and project managers promise when deploying them. Architects know all about legacy, organic growth of organizations and their application landscapes, as well as the enormous efforts it will take to rationalize these landscapes. Architects prefer to craft a plan up-front, discuss the underlying principles (hoping to get them approved by senior management), design an integral picture of the preferred future, analyze the impact of the proposed changes and then start projects.

The internal focus and lack of speed in this approach are brought to the table by KLM’s Martijn van der Zee mentioned above. MIT’s Joi Ito goes even further in his TED-talk on innovation in the era of the Internet, by stating that the Internet is fundamentally changing the way we innovate. The old-school “MBA-way of innovation” is way to slow and does not benefit from the connected world we are in today.

Okay, right… but what does that mean for the way we are architecting (in) organizations?

The alternative: Contribute to flexibility and scalability

  1. Architects in the New Normal should not hit the breaks on innovation, but facilitate innovation with all means they have at hand. By creating and presenting reusable building blocks (e.g. standard processes, information bundles, application services, technical standards), architects contribute to speeding up experiments. The more well-documented reusable building blocks you have available, the faster you can chain them into a working prototype with added steps/functionality to be bought (from the cloud) or build.
  2. Architects in the New Normal should be able to engage with people that prefer other communication and learning styles then the one they prefer. “Doing” and “Concrete experience” is what business managers typically prefer, where architects prefer a style oriented on “Thinking”, and in some cases “Observation and reflection”. There is no wrong or right in these learning styles, it just helps you to take a different approach and go through all steps of learning to maximize the learning experience. In many cases good is good enough. Work with Pareto-principle in mind and understand that in fast moving environments an 80% sketch of a design is good enough to run an experiment and learn a lot.

    80% sketch of a design 

  3. Architects in the New Normal should have a vision on speed. What are the fast moving processes and channels in the organization and where do we need to maximize stability? Also architects in the New Normal should provide a set of criteria to help business managers decide on scaling up an experiment, including scenarios on the integration or re-engineering of functionality that was developed in a stand-alone experiment, to have it fit with the rest of the application landscape. Scalability is a key challenge, both for start-ups as well as for experiments in larger organizations.

With growth, distractions and complications multiply

Business architecture techniques help you in this process. BiZZdesign applies these techniques in the tools, training and consultancy we provide. We strongly believe Business architecture capabilities should be focussing on the creation of business value from rationalization and optimization as well as from growth and innovation.