On business capabilities, functions and application features

Working with architecture as a way of designing and cataloging the relationships between business and IT has always been a challenge. I recently attended an IASA meeting where we discussed the challenges of designing and maintaining a business architecture. At the meeting I talked about capabilities, what I think they are and how to actually go about identifying the key set of capabilities in a business. I also talked about my view of how these capabilities relate to other elements of an architecture. My view is as I’ve understood a bit different from the common view amongst architects. I promised the participants that I’d release some of my writings on this topic, so here is a preview of the work I’m doing right now.

One Simple Way

The basic assumption I work from is that one should try not to confuse functions (functionalities of a business) with capabilities. If one take a good look at the way I prefer to design the connection between information systems and the business one would see that there are no “functions as capabilities” in that architecture.

Functions are a really good way of structuring one view of the architecture but it is not the same as my view of capabilities. Functions are easy to break down in an hierarchical architecture that can serve as excellent requirements of an IT-architecture, if you pare it with a service architecture it’s even better. The best way of doing this functional break down that I’ve seen so far is by Cutter Consortium and it’s documented in the article “The Business Capability Map: The “Rosetta Stone” of Business/IT Alignment“. The functional maps can easily be created for a whole business, a segment or some other subset. One really good thing with them is that if you have excellent architects and knowledgeable subject matter experts then you can start in any corner of the white space and flesh out the map as the projects comes along. I’ve done a lot of these types of maps for various businesses and in my mind they are essentially functional maps and not capability maps. Rest assured that the maps alla Cutter Consortium are effective and brings with them great value, however I believe there is an even greater value to be gained from creating another type of capability maps.

The capability map I describe is on the other hand not used on anything but the business as a whole, and they don’t break down hierarchically.

This definition of business capabilities

I’m in the process of creating my complete writings on this topic so here is a draft of a sample capability map. Each one of these capabilities I would detail using The Capability Canvas.

Sample business capabilities


When you should use this

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.

You can download the slides from slideshare here.

Change log

Added the initial post and three images of the slide package from the up and coming courseware.


Moved the article from a page format to a post format.

Rewrote some text and also rearranged some of the text.


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