In my prior post, I pointed out that the Zachman Framework is limited (fatally flawed even) by the fact that there is no row to represent the customer viewpoint.  In the ensuing discussion, it became obvious that I had not explained why that matters.

Enterprise architecture is described by many monikers:

  • Bridge from Strategy to Execution
  • Alignment between the Business and IT

But why do we need to bridge strategy to execution, or bridge business to IT?  Because customer needs change, and therefore businesses must change.  If nothing is changing, then there is no need for EA.  Of course, for most of us, that is not a situation we will likely face. 

The direction that a business should go is the combination of three things: where there is passion, where the business is positioned well, and where the customer sees value.  (this is an abbreviation of the Hedgehog concept).  There is a risk, a rather large risk, that the things the customer values will change so radically that the business will find itself passionate and positioned for success in a business that the customer doesn’t care about.

And that is why the Zachman framework is interesting but not useful.  It does a good job of modeling the present, and the internal intent of the business, but not the customer’s needs and therefore, not the rationale for change.  Put another way, the ZF does a good job of documenting the Inside-Out view, but fails completely to allow anyone to model the Outside-In view.  This is simply not effective at the level of business strategy.  If we are going to be effective at bridging strategy to execution, we need to be effective at modeling strategy.  But to model business strategy, we need to represent the needs of the customer. 

If we don’t capture the needs of the customer, we can build the most effective roadmap… to the wrong destination.  We would have no way to advise the business that the strategy is brilliantly and wildly incorrect.  If a business was made up of little robots, doing everything the executives say, that would not matter, but in most successful businesses, we expect and require that the entire company be tuned to the needs of the marketplace. 

In that context, any strategy that leads away from the needs of the customer will be questioned, delayed, and dissipated.  That is probably a good thing, but it also means that the business will waste valuable energy fighting itself.  Leadership will say “head North” and the managers will say “but the customer is East” and no one will move at all.  Time is wasted and resources are wasted.

As Enterprise Architects, we can no longer take a tactical view and simply accept that business strategy, by definition, is correct.  The rest of the enterprise will not effectively implement a strategy that does not take into account the needs of the marketplace, so we will not be effective at linking execution to strategy in those cases where strategy is wrong.

In the modern world, where we empower employees, and trust ourselves, and actually require ourselves to think, we must expect resistance if EA amplifies a wrong-headed strategy.  If we are to empower execution, we must also empower the executives to examine business strategy in light of customer needs.  We must do more than model the goals and processes… we must capture the business model, and all of the influencers, drivers, and assessments that surround it.  The customer is not middle-management, where the initiatives are formed.  The customer for EA is, and must be, the senior executives where strategy is formed, and where strategy must be examined, questioned, and thoroughly modeled.

That is why I’m passionate about the business motivation model.  That is why I believe that the Zachman framework is interesting, but no longer sufficient, for enterprise architecture.  EA must be able to capture, model, and examine the influencers for a business, and place the business strategy into context, if we are to be effective at aligning the execution of the enterprise to that strategy.  In an empowered enterprise, we have no choice.

Business has changed.  Enterprise Architecture must change as well.

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

4 thoughts on “Can Enterprise Architecture be effective if we ignore the needs of the customer?”
  1. Nick, just three words: YES, YES, YES! 🙂

    Great post – very, very strongly agree.

    More to talk about about some other time, but I'm _really_ pleased see this: _thank you_.

  2. Not that I am defending the ZF but the ZF does not document anything, that’s the enterprise architects job; the framework devotes an entire column to motivation and rational, it’s called why. The motivation model you speak is a derivative of describing the scope, ends, and means and extends into describing the business model, etc. The business model is a composition value proposition, profit system and supporting infrastructure. The key is transforming those rational expectations into logical structures. Enterprise architecture enables the design and implementation of the structures that link an organization’s strategy with its execution. The framework is merely a way for the enterprise architect to think through the problem space.

  3. Nick,

    Zachman is a framework of models (each cell represents a model) and I see no reason that the "Why" column should not be the "Business Motivation Model" (of which I am a fan as well, see The flaw with Zachman is that the cell level models are not well articulated.

    Zachman has its place, primarily as an internal tool for us EAs to discuss and debate the scope of EA. I also find it a great tool for me to check the completeness of my work (have I considered all viewpoints and all audiences). But I tend to develop my own models for every cell.

    I believe the Zachman framework is designed so that it will NEVER have a fatal flaw – it is just too vague as to what the models actually are. The rows represent internal audiences – consumers of the models. The columns are the six interrogatives. Those do not need to change.

    So, the Customer should be represented in every column and every row (which is what I believe you are saying by asking for a Customer row). However, EVERY audience needs to understand the role of the customer and they need to understand that role in context with each of the interrogatives.Hence, customer has to be in all cells.

    Dave Baker

    twitter: davidcbaker

  4. Hi Nick,

    Spot on!

    EA should be a semi-reflective critiqueing mirror held up to strategy formation – and transmitting through to strategy execution. Not only outwardly directed in questioning where the company strategy is taking the business – but also inwardly-directed asking how exactly we get there from where we are today. And thereby bringing realism to strategy formation and strategy execution.

    Zachman, as a categorising method, doesn't help too much – but it does make sure the strategic ideas are in the right pigeon-holes – except, as you rightly point out , where is the customer-perception pigeon-hole?



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