I cannot take credit for that aphorism… credit goes to Jan Van Til.  He coined the term after reading Tom Graves’ excellent post on the architecture of responsibility.  Tom’s post details the philosophical challenges of a responsibility-based economy.  However, I’d like to get a little more tactical in the Enterprise Architecture space, and discuss more of the “intra-company” and “intra-solution” aspects of “The Architecture of Responsibility.” 

One of the key accountabilities of Enterprise Architecture is to provide a mechanism to govern the development of corporate business capabilities. In other words, we want to make sure that specific capabilities are developed, in a principled manner, prioritized on the strategy of the business. 

When making that governance mechanism work, I find myself routinely dealing with the same issues that Tom outlines.  We do not select a system because of it’s technical prowess or smart operators.  We look at the capabilities needed by the business, and assign responsibility to the business team that is willing, able, positioned, and passionate about taking on the responsibility for that capability: shepherding and improving it, operating it effectively, remaining agile, while keeping a keen eye on both risk management and cost efficiencies. 

I’d like to point out a key aspect of governance.  It is not about assigning responsibility to a system or system component.  No one can govern the assignment of a responsibility to a system.  What can be governed, effectively, is the assignment of responsibility to a business unit.  That business unit can own information and the systems that manage it.  You need people to make governance work… not just to govern, but to be vested in the success of the “optimal architecture.”

Hence, the architecture of responsibility is the mapping of capabilities and business processes to people.  Sometimes that means consolidation to common processes, but not always.  That depends on the operating model of the business.  But always it is a problem if a particular capability within a business model has no owner.  Identifying the businesses within an enterprise, the capabilities within the business, and the owners of the capabilities… that is a key deliverable of Enterprise Architecture.

One that is not often discussed… but in the end, extraordinarily important.