Importance of Business and Architectural Models for Digital Transformation Iniatives

In this article, I want to highlight the critical importance of business and architectural models for the successful delivery of digital transformation initiatives from the accountability and responsibility aspects of a lead business architect.

As business architects, we must develop multiple business and architectural models for digital transformation initiatives. A model can be defined as the proposed structure of an entity typically on a smaller scale than its original form. Models are essential work-products in the enterprise, business, and technology architecture frameworks. Therefore it is collaborative activity across multiple architectural domains. However, as business architects, we usually lead the model development process as a top-down approach in digital transformation programs. We also supervise the bottom-up activities related to the creation of models by the domain, portfolio, and solution architects.

In many business organizations belong to regulated industries, some of the business and architectural models are mandatory to meet the quality and compliance requirements of the digital transformation programs. Models are considered the fundamental building blocks of the solutions and must be traced to the business, functional, non-functional, and operational requirements.

Once we draft specific business or architectural model at an abstract level and our relevant stakeholders understand and approve them, the next important step in the architectural method is to represent the contextual representation of the specific model in an abstract level by briefly describing each system building block of the model and the relationships.

Describing system and process details in abstract representations requires a great deal of cognitive skills and mental exercise. This practice includes dealing with multiple patterns, which can stimulate our cognitive abilities. Many business architects in challenging digital transformation environments enjoy this intellectual practice, highly regarded and admired by their business stakeholders. This is the fun part of creating a business and architecture model.

However, the challenging part is, as business architects, we are responsible for developing many business-oriented and architectural models which may be beyond our expertise. For example, some of the models need to be extracted from methods such as TOGAF, Zachman, or proprietary methods which require substantial customisation.

The most common business architecture models that we need to customise are Business Context, Data Context, Technology Context, Business Capabilities Model, and Value Streams Model. These are essential models every business architect needs to know in detail and practice them hands on.

Preparing these models require specialist level of business acumen possessed by most of the experienced business architects in the industry. For those who are starting the business architecture recently, reviewing the work-product templates for these models from various business architecture methods, completing a model preparation course, and being mentored by an experience business architect are essential professional development activities.

In many business organisations, experienced business architects are accountable and responsible for leading the digital transformation programs. Therefore they are expected not only create the models themselves but also help with the creation of some of the domain-specific architectural models.

Some domain specific and fundamental architectural models that we can consider for digital transformation initiatives are Component Model, Operational Model, Performance Model, Security Model, Availability Model, Services Model, and Cost Model. Usually, rather than developing these models ourselves, we provide input to the relevant architecture team members who may be directly responsible for developing these model work-products. For example a Security Model can be delegated to a security architect or domain specialist in this discipline. However, as business architect, we provide the business requirements and the framework for the model.

As business architects, we must ensure that these architectural models are precisely documented, reviewed by the domain experts, and governed by the Architecture Review Board or a Design Authority established in the business organisation or at the digital transformation program level. You can find samples of these models in established architectural methodologies searching the names of the models in the method repository.

Documentation of the architectural models can include both textual explanations and practical diagrams. For example, for a Component Model, all components, sub components, elements, and their relationships can be clearly illustrated in a diagram. The components and their functions can also be explained in detail in a textual document.

Some business architects may need to use their organisations’ proprietary architectural tools or even a PowerPoint document based on the documentation requirements and project management practice of the program. As a common practice, I mainly use MS Visio as a productivity tool to create my Component and Operational Models and share the output as a PDF to the relevant stakeholders. PDF based solution artifacts are easy to store and distribute to relevant stakeholders. They are also easy to produce and submit for the program quality or compliance auditing purposes.

Using architectural diagrams can be practical communication tools for the approval of selected models in the digital transformation program because the governance process for handling the architecture models requires presenting them to the Architecture Review Board or a Design Authority.

With an effective presentation and articulated communication, obtaining technical assurance approvals of the business and architectural models can be faster and easier. Otherwise, people in these governance forums struggle to understand the key points and consume substantial amounts of time to approve them. Digital transformation programs cannot afford elongated time-frames due to their demanding natures. Therefore, applying agile principles to review of architectural and business models is a critical success factor for digital transformation programs.

Approval for some of these models may also need to be obtained from the financial, commercial, and other business stakeholders. For example, the Cost Model, the Services Model, and the Availability Model can have special content that may require financial and commercial approval both at the program and the enterprise level.

As business architects, we not only deal with the architectural and technical aspects of the models in the digital transformation initiatives but also the financial and commercial aspects. While developing the business and architectural models, we also need to collaborate with multiple professional from various disciplines including architects, domain specialists, business analysts, financial advisors, service designers, and operational leads in digital transformation programs. These professional collaborators can provide various views points in creating business and architectural models using the industry and organisational best practices.

In summary, business and architectural models are critical artifacts for successful delivery of the entire solution life-cycle of a digital transformation initiative including architecture, design, deployment, and operational phases of the initiative. Therefore, as business architects, we must lead this critical process with rigour, flexibility, agility, simplicity, and collaboration with key contributors to maintain and improve the quality of our business and architectural models. The bottom line is that without developing and using effective business and architectural models, a digital transformation initiative cannot be delivered successfully.

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