I talk commonly to architects that are under pressure to create a cloud strategy. Or an SOA strategy. Or a BPM strategy. Or an XYZ strategy. Many will add up a few of these point strategies and call it an overall technology strategy. It’s good to know where we’re going, but is this the right way to do it? No. The problem is that this is technology-focused tech strategy. You can see it in the way we describe applications according to their dominant technology. We call them event-driven apps, or RFID apps, or whatever. Instead, to have a business-focused tech strategy, the starting point should be an understanding of what drives business outcomes. What would that look like?

Business architecture — an important and maturing domain of enterprise architecture — is changing the conversation between business people and technologists. Rather than centering on individual siloed applications, business architecture, at its best, centers conversation on the design of business outcomes and what it takes to achieve them. Within the realm of business architecture, models like business capability maps provide strong mechanisms for understanding and designing a business.

Building on these notions, a nascent industry conversation is working to establish the concept of Business Capability Architecture. This is good — we need this type of business foundation. But there’s a problem. The initial ideas don’t go nearly far enough. They are little more than fancier names for a business capability map. The industry needs a bigger vision that can carry the architecture all the way through to business implementation. This past Friday, in my keynote session at Forrester’s Enterprise Architecture Forum, I presented our vision for Business Capability Architecture, which goes significantly beyond current industry thought. In Forrester’s view, for Business Capability Architecture to provide a new foundation for technology strategy, it must:

  1. Start with business outcomes. To a CEO, the metrics — the business outcomes — that most determine the organization’s success boil down to the balance sheet, statement of operations, and statement of cash flow, combined with soft metrics that indicate the organization’s power, stature, and influence in the marketplace.
  2. Direct the evolution of business capabilities. Business plans make a poor foundation for tech strategy. They will — and should — constantly change in response to competitive and political dynamics. A better foundation is an organization’s core capabilities — product design, customer service, etc. — which we build on and evolve to achieve better outcomes. But we need to do more than model and plan business capabilities, we need to implement them using an integrated, operational, measurable combination of people, processes, technology, and physical resources. Thus, Forrester places the notion of an evolving business capability implementation — a complete running part of a business — as the target for Business Capability Architecture.
  3. Provide design implementation models oriented around business change. A business capability map is good, but if you can’t carry it through to implementation, it’s just a pretty picture. So Forrester’s Business Capability Architecture — by analyzing the ways that businesses change and evolve — provides design principles and implementation models for integrated, coherent, holistic implementation of business capabilities. This includes the notion of a business capability platform — a cohesive, integrated, multitechnology, business-focused platform — that gets past the single technology focus of our current day BPM apps, event-driven apps, and the like.

My keynote went farther to elaborate on Business Capability Architecture, but these three points provide the gist for how it can connect your technology strategy directly to business improvements that are meaningful to your top executives. That’s how you’ll get sustained business impact from your tech strategy.

Forrester’s vision for Business Capability Architecture builds on the foundation of Digital Business Architecture, Dynamic Business Applications, and numerous other design paradigms that we have been building over the past several years. It’s all part of helping Forrester clients develop a strategic view of business technology and architecture that can handle and drive the speed of change, business innovation, and technology complexity of our increasingly digital world.

This is where my research will be focusing in 2010. I’ll continue to talk about service-oriented architecture (SOA), which (done right) is a critical business foundation, for the new vision, but by moving to the bigger picture around SOA, I’ll be able to build a stronger and broader foundation for the future. BTW, I’ll do the keynote again at our EA Forum in London on 2-3 March .

I’d be curious to hear your reactions. What do you think is the best foundation for technology strategy? How do you ensure that your tech strategy delivers business impact that your CEO cares about?

Randy Heffner

Twitter: rh_forrester