The Capability Map: Identifying Strategic Initiatives Through Enterprise Architecture.

Icons for the Capability Map


Many enterprises experience a more intense form of competition and for that matter a more intense form of pressure from the outside the enterprise e.g. through financial institutions, government agencies and customers that demand more and better products for less money.

In such situations there are several perspectives that the enterprise’s decision makers would have to take into consideration when it comes to how the enterprise should develop in order to achieve the goals and objectives that have been defined by the various groups of stakeholders within the enterprise.

In regard to this I have to confess, that I work in a Scandinavian environment where other stakeholders than the executives can have a significant influence on where the enterprise is heading and with what measures it have to be done with, and that has an impact on my view on how to deal with the process of defining capabilities and how to execute strategies.

When I speak of capability then I am defining it as how the enterprise is able to execute activities or processes that are related to realistic strategic initiatives.

Activities and resources can be defined as those who deals with something in a specific way in order to complete a particular task or for that matter reach a particular objective. Activities can to some extend be defined as processes if they are grouped as such by the enterprise that is investigated.

Resources deals with the people, machinery, structures and systems there are at hand. When mentioning structures and systems then it is possible to deal with how people interact with one another in order to handle the activities or processes. Structures are in this regard how various hierarchies work and how the distribution of people within departments do things in various ways. Systems can in this case be a bit bogus. The first way I have chosen to understand and later on defining a system is through a hypothesis that it can be a social system where people interact in a formal and for that matter an informal way, and the concept of a system can be a set of coupled information systems transforms data (input) into information. Information systems are combined with structures in order to develop the information needed for the decision makers. As earlier mentioned there can be several layers in the decision-making platform in Scandinavian companies, and as a result there are several different needs in order to deal with the information available.

An Enterprise Architecture program is about taking charge of the people, the activities, the structures, the systems and synergies that exists in the enterprise and transform relatively complex information into useable information for the decision-makers.

The question is to find information that has been validated and that can be trusted. The information should provide the decision-makers with a set of scenarios and opportunities that summaries the capabilities of the enterprise.

The Maps

So how do you map the capabilities of the enterprise?

First and foremost you will never be able to map all the capabilities or for that matter simulate all the scenarios. First of all why would you? The enterprise you work for has limited resources available for the doing so in the first place and secondly you would probably have a lot of other things to do as Enterprise Architect in your enterprise e.g. continuing to convince stakeholders to commit their support for the Enterprise Architecture program.

So the question becomes, how do you transform the information you got organized in your Enterprise Architecture repository into capabilities?

The first and foremost action to take is to consult the various specialists, middle managers and people who have the first hand experience with working with the activities and processes in order to gain an insight in how the enterprise is working and how the various parties perceives the problems at hand and what barriers and obstacles that the enterprise would have to cope with in order to achieve an objective.

The second action to take would be dealing with organizing the impressions and validate each one of the impressions in order to identify ways to do things in a smarter way and identify issues that could be dealt with in easy ways and issues that seems systemic of nature. This process is a rather subjective one and it is very likely that a great deal of the stakeholders will disapprove of the particular prioritization of the issues, barriers and capabilities. The reason for this might that they assume that their problems or issues with the current architecture are way more important than those of the rest of the enterprise.

In other words don’t expect to become popular with all people in the enterprise while you prioritize and develop the capability map, but you can do a lot of things in order to convince the various stakeholders the necessity to deal with the problems at hand.

The third action to take would be dealing with organizing the feedback and validating the first set of impressions from the various forms of the issues dealing with capabilities, barriers and problems.

The fourth action to take would be to create the map presented to the decision-makers in the enterprise. The capabilities map should in turn be combined with scenarios due to the problems the enterprise will face with the increasing competition and availability of resources.

The Capability Map

The way I see it, the capability map shares a lot of features with the rich picture (as described by Checkland and Mathiassen, in each of the two separate books on information systems development), the user can apply a lot of different notation forms in order to illustrate the situation the enterprise would be dealing with if a particular scenario would be realized. Though I have found that some icons or pictograms to be more useful than others e.g.:

Icons for the Capability Map
Icons for the Capability Map

And for that matter can a grid be applied in order to give the decision-makers a good insight to when it could be a necessity to deal with the capabilities in the enterprise. I make use of a 3 x 3 grid where the vertical axis is strategic importance and the horizontal axis is time.

9 x 9 Grid
3 x 3 Grid

So what is the capability map good for?

It is good for illustrating how the enterprise can achieve its objectives by (re)organizing and execute strategies through informed governance. One way of achieving informed governance is through an Enterprise Architecture program.

Furthermore, the capabilities map is good for dealing with communication with stakeholders within the enterprise and convincing decision-makers to initiate specific strategic plans.



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