The extraordinary waste of talent that is Enterprise Architecture (EA) has featured here before. Clever people doing an honest day’s toil but not making much difference. EA’s mid-life crisis continues. But it doesn’t have to be like this. There’s a way forward that liberates EA from the ivory tower, connects it with the business and leverages its real potential.

Even to its fans, EA sometimes seems like a daytime TV soap. Its obituary has been published numerous times. Some of its practitioners are pronouncing about what ‘must be built out of the ashes of EA’. Even the rallying cry of its supporters seems unconvincing: Chris Lockhart’s blog last week On The Bleeding Edge urged EA practitioners to look beyond the ‘internecine wars’ and be confident that ‘EA is not dead yet’.

It’s against this bleak background that Metastorm teamed up with Forrester on a webinar last week to address the disconnect between EA teams and BPM teams. [which seems real – only 4% of the 300+ people on the webinar described them as aligned in their organization].

The webinar covered the various issues including ‘the hundreds of different frameworks that are designed to bring EA and BPM together to meet a common shared vision’. [Hundreds of frameworks? Only in EA.]

The answer, said Forrester, is capability maps:

“which are an organizational model associating the business capabilities, processes, and functions required for business success with the IT resources that enable them.”

To be honest, in discussions with hundreds of clients, I’d never even heard of a capability map, so I read on with interest. Capability maps allow an organization:

“to identify and prioritize the capabilities that need to change and transform over time. Business and IT users can utilize capability maps to highlight the weak and broken processes within their organizations and also identify the relationship between bad data and broken processes. In essence, capabilities serve as a common language that both business architects and process professionals understand.”

All of which sounds compelling. So what does a capability map look like, I wondered? The Metastorm website offers this example of “Integrated EA and BPA capability”:

With all due respect, this looks like a doodle that EA did when the therapist said: ‘just write down whatever comes into your head, don’t worry if it makes sense’.

To be fair, it’s not just Metastorm. IBM Websphere similarly promotes capability maps ‘to hierarchically decompose the services your organization provides’.

But capability maps are surely a dead end for EA because they are disconnected from the operational realities of the business. They create an artificial divorce between ’services’, the ethereal domain of EA, and ‘processes’, the lower level world into which EA does not descend.

It’s ‘artificial’ because essentially all work is process, as the opening words of the APQC’s original report on BPM so memorably put it. And it is extremely helpful to see the organization as an an integrated set of end-to-end processes. Global leaders in this area have, or are striving to create, a single comprehensive, integrated and ‘live’ enterprise process model. Surely the way forward for EA must be to plug into this, the real business.

Global leaders – organizations like Nestlé, Chevron, Serco and Cameron – are adopting enterprise-wide ‘live’ collaborative frameworks for process management and performance improvement, within which the business and IT perspectives are fully synchronised. Right now, Nimbus Control integrated with SAP Solution Manager is the leader in this field.

It’s obviously the future – the business operating system and the foundation of any continuous excellence program – but it isn’t simple to implement across the enterprise. It requires serious thinking about process architecture and the conceptual relationships between IT constructs and the live business processes – EA thinking, in fact. This is where EA expertise is needed and can be seen to make a real difference.

At the heart of resolving most mid-life crises is effective communication (believe me…). To be fair to Forrester and others, the essential idea of a capability map is fine, and maybe it was once the best we had. But EA cannot effectively communicate, and it’s contribution will be of very limited value, unless it’s plugged into the heart of the business, into a ‘live’ process framework that directly links strategy to reality.