The yin and the yang. They remind us that all things exist as inseparable and contradictory opposites. Within this concept lies one of the keys to digital transformation success as well.

Look at any of the ample compilations available on the reasons why digital transformations fail and there’s one thing we know: it’s not because of the technology.

As organizations transition from the Industrial Era to the Digital Era, the Institute for Digital Transformation affirms that culture is why most digital transformation efforts fail. Further, the Institute advises that “effective digital transformation should not be undertaken to develop a specific “digital capability,” but rather should be focused on developing a “cultural capability” that will ready the organization for the unique pressures and demands of the digital era – an agile organization.”1

Digital transformation is hard not just because of the sheer magnitude of change to manage and new possibilities to leverage, but because in many cases it requires us to go against human nature as we’ve been conditioned. We may think of strategy as incremental changes, orchestrated through defined planning rhythms. We may be used to thinking in silos versus systems. We may consider agility to be synonymous with faster execution of projects. However, digital transformation is a fundamental business change which also requires a rewiring of the way an organization operates.

This is the time to cross the Rubicon.

Building New Muscle

For non-digital native organizations in particular, this means building new muscle and boldly addressing some of the challenges that have existed for decades. Digital transformation requires:

  • Developing transformational strategies and a culture of continual strategy and innovation, not tactical improvements
  • Taking responsibility for the business, not allowing digital transformation to be technology-led or vendor-led
  • Embodying an enterprise-first mindset, not a silo-first mindset
  • Building end-to-end organizational agility, not just execution agility

To define the transformation, organizations need a way to reimagine the art of the possible from a true business perspective. To achieve the transformation, organizations need a way to understand where they are today, and define and implement changes across business units and products for potentially the largest scope they have encountered to date. To sustain the transformation, organizations ultimately need to reshape how they execute strategy as well as the underlying structures and culture to embed an enterprise mindset, disruptive culture and continuous evolution approach into the DNA of the organization.

As with any change, even if there is a catalyst, we still need mechanisms to help us facilitate and maintain that change. The global landscape has created an urgent catalyst for digital transformation and business architecture (in partnership with IT architecture within the umbrella of enterprise architecture) is one of the key mechanisms for helping to define, achieve and sustain it.

The Instrumental Role of Business Architecture

Business architecture is a set of views or “blueprints” of an organization and the ecosystem in which it operates. An organization’s business architecture is entirely business-focused and owned, and represents what it does across the entire enterprise at a high level – including various aspects such as the capabilities it performs and how it delivers value. It can connect from strategies and policies down to initiatives and the operating model details of people, process and technology to provide a full end-to-end perspective from strategy through execution.

Business architecture is the critical but often missing bridge between strategy and execution, and instrumental for enabling digital transformation. It is also often misunderstood. You may have heard things such as:

“Business architecture takes too long.”

“We already know what we do today, we don’t have to write it down.”

“Structure gets in the way of innovation and agile execution.”

This is where we return to the concept of yin and yang. When approached correctly, the opposite is true. In fact, here we find a powerful paradox: the systemic, structured nature of architecture is the gateway to transformation and agility.

How does business architecture facilitate digital transformation?

First, business architecture provides a fundamental structure for digital transformation, allowing people to readily view what the organization does from a business perspective (without doing archeology to rediscover it) and then methodically assess and redesign how it will change as a result of digital transformation – no matter if that entails digitalizing existing capabilities and offering them in different channels or completely reinventing the organization’s business model. Then, business architecture plays an important role to successfully carry out that direction by translating the digital strategy into a coordinated set of actions for execution. With an enterprise level business architecture (and IT architecture) in place, the business and technology impacts of the strategy and defined customer experience can be cataloged and assessed and then collectively architected across products and business units. The resulting target architecture(s) can then be scoped into a set of transformation initiatives in the most effective way across business units — without redundancy, conflicts or dependency issues.

The traceability from strategy and objectives through the business architecture to initiatives also allows for measurement to ensure the initiatives actually deliver on the expected results. This top-down, cross-business unit approach to strategy execution is not only essential to carrying out the digital transformation, but it also builds an organization’s ability to continually adapt to change. While it requires more than just business architecture to achieve, an established business architecture practice will help to drive much of this approach within the context of a digital transformation.

With a business architecture in place then, organizations can:

  • Inform and understand the impacts of digital strategy comprehensively, with repeatability and speed
  • Drive digital transformation, including decision-making and solutions, from a business perspective
  • Facilitate the shift from a product-centric orientation to a customer-centric one
  • Ensure the right things – whether innovation ideas, initiatives or technology options – are being worked on from an enterprise perspective
  • Gain competitive advantage through an effective strategy execution process which quickly reacts to change

We will further explore how business architecture enables digital transformation in four upcoming articles within this series. Each will focus on business architecture’s role in one of the four dimensions of a digital enterprise: Operational Sustainability, Organizational Agility, Strategic Agility and Disruptive Culture.

Business architecture is not a silver bullet. It is not the only answer, but rather works in harmony with other disciplines and teams to transform an organization. It is also not necessarily a simple answer, but the challenges many organizations have to overcome were not created overnight. Digital transformation can be the ideal impetus for introducing or scaling business architecture within an organization. Conversely we might also ask ourselves: how can we succeed at digital transformation without it?


1[i] Granito, Frank. “What is a Digital Enterprise?” Institute for Digital Transformation, 27 Feb. 2017,