Business Architecture – The Power of Knowledge Standardisation and Re-Use

One thing everyone on our team has noticed is that whilst the concept of business architecture is not new, it is not exactly in common use either.

We have also noticed that where it is practiced, to a demonstrably good effect, tends to be in the larger national or international organisations, who are often the leaders in their frequently means that, as they have deep pockets and ‘special’ needs, that they typically build their business architectures completely from scratch and to employ expensive consultants to help them do it.

There is nothing what-so-ever wrong with this, but not that many organisations in the grand scheme of things can afford the luxury of doing this work from scratch such that it is tailored 100% to their exact needs. This is a shame as we believe most organisations would benefit from the coordination and common understanding that building and having a business architecture makes possible.

Too many organisations feel that this sort of up-front outlay on ‘thinking things through’ is something they cannot all too often the truth of the matter is just the can’t afford not to do it!

The situation as we see it is simple. The largest, best and most profitable organisations can afford to build business architectures and they benefit accordingly. Smaller or less profitable organisations who could arguably benefit even more from the discipline and structure a business architecture can bring cannot or don’t feel that they can afford it and suffer accordingly.

So the problem from our perspective seems to be how to bridge this affordability gap.

We feel the answer, as has been the case in many other business contexts related to timescale and affordability issues, is to pre-package and re-use the knowledge through standardisation.

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There are many examples through history of the winning ways of standardisation, including:

Language, spelling and punctuation so we can communicate more readily;

Mechanical fasteners (e.g. nuts & bolts) to be interchangeable across uses;

Railway lines to enable trains to run on one another’s networks;

Controls of automobiles so we can safely drive different models of car;

Electronic chip modules so that they can be easily used in many different designs.

We could list many more examples, but the above are probably sufficient to make the point about the benefits of pre-packaging and re-use through standardisation!

Yes, standardisation and re-use does mean accepting an approach that is not 100% tailored to you from the outset……although you can still work in this direction if you really feel the and more importantly can cost-justify it.

However, it also means you can get off to a running start, can take only what you need, can modify / extend only what you need and then get on with the business of the knowledge that you are starting work within an integrated structure in which all the key actors fit together and know their respective roles.

Also, for the benefit of our more skeptical , in our experience, depending on personal initiative and serendipity for this degree of coordination and control is not an equally good alternative!

Therefore we strongly support the use of a generic, cross-industry ‘starter’ business architecture. An architecture that to be sure all or most users will find a need to modify to their needs – i.e. delete parts, add parts, extend parts, modify parts, ignore parts, etc – until it is what you need it to be.

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But the difference with this approach is that you now will have to hand a solid foundation on which to construct your own business architecture and not just some blank sheets of paper (or screen) with some modeling rules.

The latter being infinitely where to start, where to stop and how do you know if you are doing it right?

Further, we contend, as we do in most things, that the 80/20 Rule (i.e. Pareto Principle) strongly applies to business transformation initiatives.

When you really think about it why should most organisations, other than out of a form of conceit that they are so ‘special’, need or even want to re-invent the wheel of widely accepted business good practice?

We would argue that roughly 80% (give or take) of what most organisations do can be adequately accomplished in fairly standardised ways……think running a payroll system for instance. So re-creating those things falls into the camp of adding only 20% (or less) of the potential business typically just makes it harder to do things like outsource non-core activities or buy standard software!

Then there is the 20% (again, give or take) of what organisations do that are, and should be, unique to them……think ways particular to you through which you achieve high customer satisfaction rates. You DO NOT want to standardise is what sets you apart and differentiates you from your competition. This is where the 80% (or more) of the potential business value lives.

To us, common sense dictates (or, more accurately, shouts) that you should spend as little time, money or effort on bedding in the standard 80% of things you do every day as you reasonably can. This is so that you can spend as much time, money and effort as possible on the really important 20% that makes your organisation unique and special to your customers and other key stakeholders!

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This is, by the way, quite a powerful argument for NOT undertaking to do 100% tailored business architectures as brought to you by very expensive consultants. It does in fact (surprise, surprise) support our view that starting from something that is already pretty in some cases good enough, and modifying it as your situation and opportunities dictate is a very pragmatic, cost-effective and attractive way to proceed.

We truly and sincerely believe that the only thing most organisations really need to give up to benefit from our approach is any conceit they may have that everything they do is ‘special’ and cannot be standardised or based on the re-use of knowledge to any significant extent.

We have news for those who think this by the way.

In our extensive experience of advising on business transformations and business architectures to organisations around the just ain’t so. Not even in the largest and most specialised of global players!

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