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The Architecture of Choices

By Neel Mani Kumar, Lead Consultant, Infosys Ltd.

Decision making is at the heart of management. The success of a firm depends on the quality of decisions taken by management. Every success or mishap, every opportunity grabbed or missed is the result of a decision. Making decisions at the right time and swift implementation are hallmarks of high-performing management. Successful firms implement strategic decisions without delay.

In our fast changing business environment, management has to meet the expectations of stakeholders, align with rapidly-changing policies by government of the country to do business in the international market, and cope with the business disruptive forces created by competitive adoption of advancing technology.

Executives typically use a set of management tools to visualize the information needed to make good decisions. These tools help managers address two key questions:

1.       What is right for the enterprise?

2.       Why and what needs to be done?

Successful decision makers align work to a meaningful purpose.  In doing so, they are seeking to answer the question: “What is right for the enterprise?” Going further, they also provide a clear vision, priorities, and a mission statement (addressing “What needs to be done?”), along with their support to accomplish the mission. Most managers feel that they do this well.  However, in many cases, it is difficult for their staff to understand how these key items relate to their day-to-day lives.  Placing these items into a model gives a team visibility to the information and context needed to make detailed decisions at each successive level of management. Using a modeling language, teams can verify that their decisions are in alignment with strategies at higher level.

Business Operating Model

The Enterprise Architecture function empowers a firm to align decision making at successive levels of management. Enterprise architects are a rare resource.  It is effective to use them on strategic tasks like modeling your business operating model and in strategic planning alignment. Enterprise architecture work starts with the discussion on the operating model that aligns governance, processes and the required inputs with business’s needs.  This discussion promotes effective collaboration between stakeholders. Using architects to describe the business operating model helps the leader to identify “What is right for Enterprise?”.

Industry standards for modeling the business

Modeling languages like ArchiMate™ from Open group and the Decision Model and Notation™ (DMN) from OMG™ can be used to communicate the key elements of business decisions.  These languages add value by grounding discussions in easily readable diagrams.  They also enable the development of a library of reusable decision-making components. These models can be quickly consumed and understood by the different types of stakeholders involved in decision making.

Architectural practices are already familiar with taking the same information (the model) and presenting it to different stakeholders for their needs (the view). Extending these ideas to decision making is a powerful use of the architecture paradigm. Usage of the “view” and “model” concepts provide the opportunity to visually select the choices and answers to the question “What needs to be done?” and “Why does it need to be done?


Capability Mapping

Transformation can be disruptive for a firm.  Every minute that the staff spend confused about their roles, or learning “reworked” processes is a minute that is not spent generating value.  It is imperative that leaders, especially those interested in leading their company through a transformation, focus on minimizing disruption.  The key here is to realize that while many processes will have to be broken up, the “parts” of the process often remain unchanged.  Breaking up a large process into parts, and resequencing the parts, or focusing transformation efforts on a small set of high value parts, can help the organization minimize disruption.  This allows transformation to be taken on “one bite at a time.”

The parts of a transformation are called “capabilities” and an architect adds value by helping to map out the capabilities.  One of the most prominent frameworks used for capabilities and resources identification is VRIO framework. Another most prominent frameworks for understanding capabilities derives from Michael Porter’s Value Chain concept. The key to understanding a value chain is to separate the process into parts that add value, and parts that support value.  Each needs to be optimized, but in different ways. Breaking down these parts and mapping them is very useful for driving the decisions around reutilization and process improvement.

Diagrams aligning the current capability with business need become useful communication aids for the Enterprise Architects. It helps the decision makers to decide which capability needs improvement and, what are the new capabilities required by the firm. Capability models provides a clear vision for the investment opportunity and can help a business analyst to understand and convert the business needs into the requirements at a very high level.  Some IT-centric examples of breaking up larger processes into capabilities are shown in the diagrams below.


Figure 1 IT Value chain


Figure 2 Procurement & Logistic Value Chain

Mitigating Viewpoint difference

Strategic planning often has to make predictions about various business outcomes.  This is especially true when attempting to gauge the expected return on a potential investment.  Different outcomes often have to be weighed against one another and investment priorities have to be aligned. To gauge the “probability of each outcome,” managers start the discussion with multiple internal and external stakeholders. Different people and different teams hold a different point of view about the outcome.

The architectural concepts of “model” and “view” outlined earlier can help peel apart the shared information from the viewpoints.  Modeling can be used to create the view for stakeholders based on the model which stands as a “Single source of truth”. This exercise helps the decision makers to take the correct decision based on the different viewpoint and views of different stakeholders and also helps in stakeholder management.


Figure 3: Point of view disagreement

Modeling for Case-based decision analysis

Another key use of architectural models in decision making appears in understanding the relationships among items that influence an outcome. An influence diagram is one of the techniques used by Case-based decision analysis for decision making. Specifically, influence relationship modeling is introduced in the ArchiMate™ modeling language to enable Case-based decision analysis. By tapping into the right information sources tools of this type can help to take correct decisions even if the decision maker has limited understanding of the causal business operation model. The points collected during Case-based decision analysis can be used for Case-based reasoning for solving new problems.


Figure 4 Sample Influence Diagram


Enterprise architects are skilled at creating models that can be used to support business decisions. Modeling languages, can help to accelerate the decision-making process. Modeling languages supports different decision-making management tools. Models help decision makers to engage with the context of a decision. Models can also build buy-in to extend the influence of key stakeholders.

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