Left Brain Meet Right Brain—The Connection Between Business Architecture and Customer Experience

Get ready for a great StraightTalk installment. In this post, No. 16, we explore a topic that everyone wants to know about in this age of organizational transformation — customer experience.

As we know from way back in Post No. 1, business architecture and customer experience design are two separate but mutually beneficial disciplines that work together. We’re going to explore that in more detail with our guest star, Mike Clark, who is a true expert in bringing these two worlds together. Mike helps organizations solve complex problems, not constrained by any one discipline, with a clear focus on the human experiences that design and ultimately resolve these critical problems.

Mike gives us the straight talk on how business architecture and customer experience relate. This post is based on our recent interview with him. Disclaimer: we’ve made some tiny adjustments for our typical StraightTalk-style: the blue headings represent StraightTalk asking the questions and our guest, Mike, responds in turn. Do not miss hearing this engaging interview firsthand in our StraightTalk podcast 5-Minutes With Mike Clark.

Start with the basics. Tell us, what is customer experience?

Mike: It’s important to note that there is a bit of a danger that we forget customers are actually human beings. So, if you take that view, from my perspective, a service that does what customers expect is usually perceived as a quality experience. But to make a great experience, you’ve literally got to set the right expectations and meet them whenever and wherever you engage your customers. This is an experience.

Once you’ve delivered the basics which people expect, then you can bring the unexpected moments of “wow” to life which tend to keep them coming back. I think sadly too many organizations forget the basics. They are almost seduced by the “wows” the great technology companies can bring to consumers, but what they seem to forget is those companies get the basics absolutely spot on.

Why is the concept of customer experience top of mind for so many organizations? Why should we care?

Mike: It’s become more front of mind because our engagement with technology and services has given us more choice. A great experience, and particularly one that brings people back to your organization, whether it be for a product that you provide or a service that you offer, is going to be absolutely crucial—particularly if you think that consumers now have ecosystems that they play in, and almost allow organizations to be a part of their world in terms of what they use every day.

With so much choice, if you get the experience wrong, you can quickly become forgotten in a customer experience world and customers will choose the competitor that meets their needs and helps them achieve the outcome they are looking for. For that very reason, experience has become not just a hot topic anymore—it’s become almost a hygiene and a necessity factor.

How does customer experience relate to business architecture?

Mike: I think in business architecture, historically the focus has been on business capabilities and that’s kind of where our focus started and ended. But when we start thinking about consumers and customers, the starting position is experience and the need that they are trying to fulfill. Experience has always played a fantastic role in that space but I’ve always been left wondering, “How do you deliver that experience?” “How do you understand the impact of that experience in the organization?” “What capabilities would be affected?” and “How would you organize the business to deliver that experience?”  

This is where the alignment comes in. When we align customer experience and business architecture, it gives us the ability to not only design the experience from the outside—but then take that knowledge and implement it, and align it to the business strategy and all of the things that need to be done. The alignment is a perfect match because you can look at the world through the customers’ eyes and then be able to deliver it. I am truly passionate about the fact that there is an actual alignment between these two disciplines, and if done correctly, we have an ability to deliver really great services to our customers.

P.S. Here’s a diagram comparing and contrasting the customer experience and business architecture disciplines.


Lightning Round. Rapid fire questions, one response each. Here we go…

What’s your favorite book on customer experience?

Mike: I’m going to cheat and give two on this one. Going back to where I started, there were two books that I read which drew me to the alignment between the two disciplines. The first is a book called Change By Design by Tim Brown of IDEO, which is probably the first book on design thinking that was ever released. It’s about experience, but not in the way you know it; it talks about how design plays a role in designing business.

My second favorite is The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking by Roger L. Martin, who also wrote The Design of Business. For me, these were two of the most important books on the right and left brain thinking around experience and business design that gave me the alignment story.

Your favorite customer experience technique?

Mike: I would say customer life cycles. They sit higher than a customer journey and allow you to align capabilities to the movement of the consumer through all of the phases from awareness of your product through leaving. Life cycles are almost a precursor before you start getting into journeys.

Who’s your favorite customer experience guru—like other than you, who should we all follow?

Mike: I’m a massive fan of Tom Hulme. Tom Hulme is previously the creative director of IDEO and he is a Board of Director of OpenIDEO. He tends to look at the broader design perspectives, with a clear focus on human-centric design. I think he’s a great person to look at to understand the impact that design can make.

There are obviously other people that you can look to as well, like service design agencies such as Livework Studio or IDEO, who really are leading the way in terms of combining business and design.

Last question: If customer experience and business architecture were to have a six-word memoir, what would it be? 

Mike: I wrote a blog post when I started looking at this alignment and that post became one of the most popular. I think the title is quite apt for both which is, design the experience around your business.

More good stuff

5-Minutes With Mike Clark (StraightTalk podcast): Just in case you missed the link at the beginning of this post, you can listen to the podcast with Mike Clark how business architecture and customer experience relate, which was the basis for this post. Mike gives a brilliant interview, don’t miss hearing it firsthand.

Aligning Design With Business Architecture (SlideShare): A fantastic presentation from Mike Clark during the 2014 Business Architecture Guild® Business Architecture Innovation Summit on creating the elusive 360 model of the business.

Bridging the Gap (Blog): Mike Clark’s blog on value-driven design in business teams.

Business Architecture and the Customer Experience: A Comprehensive Approach for Turning Customer Needs into Action (Business Architecture Guild® White Paper): Official white paper here that establishes how the customer experience design and business architecture disciplines work together.

Customer Experience Architecture (Livework Studio): A concise piece from Mike Clark on designing the business around customers’ experience.

Change By Design (Book by Tim Brown): A great introduction to design thinking.

The Opposable Mind: Winning Through Integrative Thinking (Book by Roger L. Martin): How to master the vital skill of integrative thinking by drawing on different kinds of knowledge, including conceptual and experiential knowledge.

Customer Experience and Design Experts to Check Out:

  • Tom Hulme + Check out Tom’s TED Talk on what we can learn from making consumers part of the product development process.
  • Livework Studio (check out the blog and books too) – A global pioneer of service design.
  • IDEO (check out the blog too) – A global design and innovation company.

The Divided Brain (TED Talk): A talk + animation from Iain McGilchrist that tells a different story about left brain versus right brain, and reveals the interplay between the two to be even more fascinating than we thought.

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BFF: Business Architecture + IT Architecture, Part 2

This post is the second one in our two-part series exploring how business architecture and IT architecture really are BFF (Best Friends Forever).

(P.S. Check out Part 1, if you missed it.)

And, we have a guest star. William Ulrich is President of TSG, Inc., Partner at Business Architecture Associates, and a Co-Founder of the Business Architecture Guild.®

Here in Post No. 15, Bill gives us the straight talk on how business architecture drives IT architecture alignment and transformation. This post is based on our recent interview with him. Disclaimer: we’ve made some tiny adjustments for our typical StraightTalk-style: the gray headings represent StraightTalk asking the questions and our guest, Bill, responds in turn. Make sure to check out StraightTalk podcast 5-Minutes With William Ulrich.

Let’s start with the big words. What does “business and IT architecture alignment” mean?

Bill: Business and IT architecture alignment represents a state in which IT application systems and data deployments fully enable business strategy, business capabilities, and stakeholder value delivery.

And what does “IT transformation” mean?

Bill: IT transformation is essentially the means of achieving business / IT architecture alignment. It could be small, like when an organization puts out a new product, or it could be large, like when an organization changes their entire business model.

BTW, here’s a really handy diagram from Bill that shows how business and IT architecture transformation works.

Business and IT Architecture Transformation Framework

So how does business architecture help with both IT architecture alignment and transformation?

Bill: Business architecture provides a robust, unambiguous, non-redundant, ecosystem-wide frame of reference for the business and IT to leverage for understanding, transforming and generally achieving the stated business strategies. Business architecture removes the guesswork between business and IT. It lets the business refocus on setting and achieving business objectives, and it lets IT refocus on identifying scope and investing in IT architectures.

Now, how do we actually connect a business architecture to an IT architecture?

Bill: Once a business architecture is documented to a certain point, you can start to use it to align or “map” to the IT architecture. That starting position is generally represented as:

  • Decomposition of capabilities down to level three
  • Identification and articulation (a.k.a. detailed description) of externally-triggered and selected internally-triggered value streams
  • A first cut information map to reflect the business capability / object relationships in the capability map

That establishes your baseline for understanding the business.

Then what?

Bill: Then, because capabilities and information concepts are based on clearly defined, well-articulated, non-redundant business objects, you can start to use those capabilities to identify the automated systems that are either in place or that you need to start delivering value. Similarly, you can use the information map to identify the data impacts and data changes that may need to occur from a business-driven perspective. In fact, there are actually tools that you can use on the IT architecture side to identify some of this information at a more granular level.

But, the key thing is to use the capabilities as the lynchpin for connecting what the business does to how it is automated and where. Once you do that, you can connect those capabilities back to the value streams and they will show you which capabilities and which systems are delivering customer and other stakeholder value.

Is this a lot of work?

Bill: It’s as plain and simple as I stated, although it is a fairly large task in large IT architectures. All of these exercises are an investment in time, so IT mapping priorities should be driven by specific business transformation goals and business objectives, so that you can clearly control scope and focus on the best value back to the business.

Got it. Anything else?

Bill: Yes. IT really needs to stop trying to silo itself.

Tell us more.

Bill: IT in and of itself is not a standalone business, although there are movements in that direction. IT is another business unit that happens to own the role of automating IT architectures.

IT needs to be an integrated perspective. It shouldn’t think of the business as an internal set of customers; it should recognize the real business customers and the real business products that are delivered to those real business customers, just like the rest of the business does.

Siloing IT into a “business” and tricking itself into believing that the customers are really the business people and the products are what IT delivers back to them creates confusion—and it avoids and undercuts the ability to drive real value to the actual customers who are interested in acquiring the actual products.

Lastly, you know we love six-word memoirs. If business architecture were to have a six-word memoir to describe its relationship to IT architecture, what would it be?

Bill: Unambiguous business ecosystem frame of reference.

More good stuff.

5-Minutes With William Ulrich (StraightTalk podcast): Just in case you missed the link in the beginning of this post, you can listen to the podcast with William Ulrich on understanding business and enterprise architecture, which was the basis for this post.
The Art and Practice of Business / IT Architecture Transformation (Blog by William Ulrich): More good stuff from Bill on business and IT architecture. Check it out.
IT Isolationism: The Need to Reverse a Dangerous Countertrend (Blog Post by William Ulrich): A piece where Bill expands on what happens when IT is viewed as a stand-alone business.
The Business Capability Map: The “Rosetta Stone” of Business/IT Alignment (Cutter Consortium Report): An oldie but a goodie. In this early stage report (from 2011), Industry Thought Leaders William Ulrich and Mike Rosen laid the groundwork for what has become a standard practice for business-driven, business / IT architecture transformation.
Business Architecture and IT Architecture Alignment (Part 6 of the BIZBOK®Guide): Here’s the official word on the topic of business and IT architecture alignment. Section 6.2 has a specific focus on how to align business architecture with other enterprise architecture frameworks (requires Guild membership to download).