Feasibility & Capabilities

Synopsis

As far as systems engineering is concerned, the aim of a feasibility study is to verify that a business solution can be supported by a system architecture (requirements feasibility) subject to some agreed technical and budgetary constraints (engineering feasibility).

Feasibility is about requirements, capabilities with supporting systems (Urs Fisher)

Where to Begin

A feasibility study is based on the implicit assumption of slack architecture capabilities. But since capabilities are set with regard to several dimensions, architectures boundaries cannot be taken for granted and decisions may even entail some arbitrage between business requirements and engineering constraints.

Using the well-known distinction between roles (who), activities (how), locations (where), control (when), and contents (what), feasibility should be considered for supporting functionalities (between business processes and systems) and implementation (between functionalities and platforms):

Feasibility with regard to Systems and Platforms

Depending on priorities, feasibility considerations could look from three perspectives:

  • Focusing on system functionalities (e.g with use cases) implies that system boundaries are already identified and that the business logic will be defined along with users’ interfaces.
  • Starting with business requirements puts business domains and logic on the driving seat, making room for variations in system functionalities and boundaries .
  • Operational requirements (physical environments, events, and processes execution) put the emphasis on a mix of business processes and quality of service, thus making software functionalities a dependent variable.

In any case a distinction should be made between requirements and engineering feasibility, the former set with regard to architecture capabilities, the latter with regard to development resources and budget constraints.

Requirements Feasibility & Architecture Capabilities

Functional capabilities are defined at system boundaries and if all feasibility options are to be properly explored, architectures capabilities must be understood as a trade-off between the five intrinsic factors e.g:

  • Security (entry points) and confidentiality (domains).
  • Compliance with regulatory constraints (domains) and flexibility (activities).
  • Reliability (processes) and interoperability (locations).
Feasible options must be set against capabilities

Feasible options could then be figured out by points set within the capabilities pentagon. Given metrics on functional requirements, their feasibility under the non functional constraints could be assessed with regard to cross capabilities. And since the same five core capabilities can be consistently defined across enterprise, systems, and platforms layers, requirements feasibility could be assessed without prejudging architecture decisions.

Business Requirements & Architecture Capabilities

One step further, the feasibility of business and operational objectives (the “Why” of the Zachman framework) can be more easily assessed if set on the outer range and mapped to architecture capabilities.

Business Requirements and Architecture Capabilities

Engineering Feasibility & ROI

Finally, the feasibility of business and functional requirements under the constraints set by non functional requirements has to be translated in terms of ROI, and for that purpose the business value has to be compared to the cost of engineering the solution given the resources (people and tools), technical requirements, and budgetary constraints.

Architecture Capabilities for Processes, with deontic (basic) and alethic (dashed) dependencies.
ROI assessment mapping business value against functionalities, engineering outlays, and operational costs.

That where the transparency and traceability of capabilities across layers may be especially useful when alternatives and priorities are to be considered mixing functionalities, engineering outlays, and operational costs.

Further Reading

Processes & Capabilities

Preamble

Enterprise architecture being a nascent discipline, its boundaries and categories of concerns are still in the making. Yet, as blurs on pivotal concepts are bound to jeopardize further advances, clarification is called upon for the concept of “capability”, whose meaning seems to dither somewhere between architecture, function and process.

eDeSouza_table
Jumping capability of a four-legged structure (Edgard de Souza)

Hence the benefits of applying definition guidelines to characterize capability with regard to context (architectures) and purpose (alignment between architectures and processes).

Context: Capability & Architecture

Assuming that a capability describes what can be done with a resource, applying the term to architectures would implicitly make them a mix of assets and mechanisms meant to support processes. As a corollary, such understanding would entail a clear distinction between architectures on one hand and supported processes on the other hand; that would, by the way, make an oxymoron of the expression “process architecture”.

On that basis, capabilities could be originally defined independently of business specificity, yet necessarily with regard to architecture context:

  • Business capabilities: what can be achieved given assets (technical, financial, human), organization, and information structures.
  • Systems capabilities: what kind of processes can be supported by systems functionalities.
  • Platforms capabilities: what kind of functionalities can be implemented.

Capabs_L1
Well established concepts are used to describe architecture capabilities

Taking a leaf from the Zachman framework, five core capabilities can be identified cutting across those architecture contexts:

  • Who: authentication and authorization for agents (human or otherwise) and roles dealing with the enterprise, using system functionalities, or connecting through physical entry points.
  • What: structure and semantics of business objects, symbolic representations, and physical records.
  • How: organization and versatility of business rules.
  • Where: physical location of organizational units, processing units, and physical entry points.
  • When: synchronization of process execution with regard to external events.

Being set with regard to architecture levels, those capabilities are inherently holistic and can only pertain to the enterprise as a whole, e.g for bench-marking. Yet that is not enough if the aim is to assess architectures capabilities with regard to supported processes.

Purpose: Capability vs Process

Given that capabilities describe architectural features, they can be defined independently of processes. Pushing the reasoning to its limit, one could, as illustrated by the table above, figure a capability without even the possibility of a process. Nonetheless, as the purpose of capabilities is to align supporting architectures and supported processes, processes must indeed be introduced, and the relationship addressed and assessed.

First of all, it’s important to note that trying to establish a direct mapping between capabilities and processes will be self-defeating as it would fly in the face of architecture understood as a shared construct of assets and mechanisms. Rather, the mapping of processes to architectures is best understood with regard to architecture level: traceable between requirements and applications, designed at system level, holistic at enterprise level.

ArchiCaps
Alignment with processes is mediated by architecture complexity.

Assuming a service oriented architecture, capabilities would be used to align enterprise and system architectures with their process counterparts:

  • Holistic capabilities will be aligned with business objectives set at enterprise level.
  • Services will be aligned with business functions and designed with regard to holistic capabilities.

BP2SOA_Capabs
Services are a perfect match for capabilities

Moreover, with or without service oriented architectures, that approach could still be used to map functional and non functional requirements to architectures capabilities.

Capabs_Reks
Functional requirements are defined with regard to business processes, non functional ones with regard to system capabilities.

The alignment of non-functional requirements with architectures capabilities can be seen as a key factor for enterprise architectures as it draws the line between what can be owned and managed by business units and what must be shared at enterprise level. It must also be noted that non-functional requirements should not be seen as a one-fits-all category but be defined by the footprint of business requirements on technical architecture.

Further Readings

External Links

From Processes to Services

Objective

Even in the thick of perplexing debates, enterprise architects often agree on the meaning of processes and services, the former set from a business perspective, the latter from a system one. Considering the rarity of such a consensus, it could be used to rally the different approaches around a common understanding of some of EA’s objectives.

BOB1951003W00007/ICP912
Process with service (Robert Capa)

A Governing Dilemma

Systems have long been of three different species that communicated but didn’t interbred: information ones were calmly processing business records, industrial ones were tensely controlling physical devices, and embedded ones lived their whole life stowed away within devices. Lastly, and contrary to the natural law of evolution, those three species have started to merge into a versatile and powerful new breed keen to colonize the whole of enterprise ecosystem.

When faced with those pervading systems, enterprises usually waver between two policies, containment or integration, the former struggling to weld and confine all systems within technology boundaries, the latter trying to fragment them and share out the pieces between whichever business units ready to take charge.

While each approach may provide acceptable compromises in some contexts, both suffer critical flaws:

  • Centralized solutions constrict business opportunities and innovation by putting all concerns under a single unwieldy lid of technical constraints.
  • Federated solutions rely on integration mechanisms whose increasing size and complexity put the whole of systems integrity and adaptability on the line.

Service oriented architectures may provide a way out of this dilemma by introducing a functional bridge between enterprise governance  and systems architectures.

Separation of Concerns

Since governance is meant to be driven by concerns, one should first consider the respective rationales behind business processes and system functionalities, the former driven by contexts and opportunities, and the latter by functional requirements and platforms implementation.

While business processes usually involve various degrees of collaboration between enterprises, their primary objective is to fulfill each one’s very specific agenda, namely to beat the others and be the first to take advantage of market opportunities. That put systems at the cross of a dual perspective: from a business point of view they are designed to provide a competitive edge, but from an engineering standpoint they aim at standards and open infrastructures. Clearly, there is no reason to assume that those perspectives should coincide, one  being driven by changes in competitive environments, the other by continuity and interoperability of systems platforms. That’s where Service Oriented Architectures should help: by introducing a level of indirection between business processes and system functionalities, services naturally allow for the mapping of requirements with architecture capabilities.

bp2sa_layers
Services provide a level of indirection between business and system concerns.

Along that reasoning (and the corresponding requirements taxonomy), the design of services would be assessed in terms of optimization under constraints: given enterprise organization and objectives (business requirements), the problem is to maximize the business value of supporting systems (functional requirements) within the limits set by implementation platforms (non functional requirements).

Services & Capabilities

Architectures and processes are orthogonal descriptions respectively for enterprise assets and activities. Looking for the footprint of supporting systems, the first step is to consider how business processes should refer to architecture capabilities :

  • From a business perspective, i.e disregarding supporting systems and platforms, processes can be defined in terms of symbolic objects, business logic, and the roles of agents, devices, and systems.
  • The functional perspective looks at the role of supporting systems; as such, it is governed by business objectives and subject to technical constraints.
  • From a technical perspective, i.e disregarding the symbolic contents of interactions between systems and contexts, operational processes are characterized by the nature of interfaces (human, devices, or other systems), locations (centralized or distributed), and synchronization constraints.

Service oriented architectures typify the functional perspective by factoring out the symbolic contents of system functionalities, introducing services as symbolic hinges between enterprise and system architectures. And when defined in terms of customers, messages, contract, policy, and endpoints, services can be directly mapped to architectures capabilities.

Services are a perfect match for capabilities

Moreover, with services defined in terms of architecture capabilities, the divide between business and operational requirements can be drawn explicitly:

  • Actual (external) entities and their symbolic counterpart: services only deal with symbolic objects (messages).
  • Actual entities and their roles: services know nothing about physical agents, only about symbolic customers.
  • Business logic and processes execution: contracts deal with the processing of symbolic flows, policies deal with operational concerns.
  • External events and system time: service transactions are ACID, i.e from customer standpoint, they appear to be timeless.

Those distinctions are used to factor out the common backbone of enterprise and system architectures, and as such they play a pivotal role in their alignment.

Anchoring Business Requirements to Supporting Systems

Business processes are meant to met enterprise objectives given contexts and resources. But if the alignment of enterprise and system architectures is to be shielded from changes in business opportunities and platforms implementation, system functionalities will have to support a wide range of shifting business goals while securing the continuity and consistency of shared resources and communication mechanisms. In order to conciliate business changes with system continuity, business processes must be anchored to objects and activities whose identity and semantics are set at enterprise level independently of the part played by supporting systems:

  • Persistent units (aka business objects): structured information uniquely associated to identified individuals in business context. Life cycle and integrity of symbolic representations must be managed independently of business processes execution.
  • Functional and execution units: structured activity triggered by an event identified in business context, and whose execution is bound to a set of business objects. State of symbolic representations must be managed in isolation for the duration of process execution.
Services can be defined according persistency and functional units (#)

The coupling between business units (persistent or transient) identified at business level and their system counterpart can be secured through services defined with regard to business processes (customers), business objects (messages), business logic (contract), and business operations (policy).

It must be noted that while services specifications for customers, messages, contracts, and policy are identified at business level and completed at functional level, that’s not the case for endpoints since services locations are set at architecture level independently of business requirements.

Filling out Functional Requirements

Functional requirements are set in two dimensions, symbolic and operational; the former deals with the contents exchanged between business processes and supporting systems with regard to objects, activities and events, or actors; the latter deals with the actual circumstances of the exchanges: locations, interfaces, execution constraints, etc.

Given that services are by nature shared and symbolic, they can only be defined between systems. As a corollary, when functionalities are slated as services, a clear distinction should be maintained between the symbolic contents exchanged between business processes and supporting systems, and the operational circumstances of actual interactions with actors.

Interactions: symbolic and local (a), non symbolic and local (b), symbolic and shared (c).
Interactions: symbolic and local (a), non symbolic and local (b), symbolic and shared (c).

Depending on the preferred approach for requirements capture, symbolic contents can be specified at system boundaries (e.g use cases), or at business level (e.g users’ stories). Regardless, both approaches can be used to flesh out the symbolic descriptions of functional and persistency units.

From a business process standpoint, users (actors in UML parlance) should not be seen as agents but as the roles agents play in enterprise organization, possibly with constraints regarding the quality of service at entry points. That distinction between agents and roles is critical if functional architectures are to dissociate changes in business processes on one hand, platform implementation on the other hand.

Along that understanding actors triggering use cases (aka primary actors) can represent the performance of human agents as well as devices or systems. Yet, as far as symbolic flows are concerned, only human agents and systems are relevant (devices have no symbolic capabilities of their own). On the receiving end of use cases (aka secondary actors), only systems are to be considered for supporting services.

Mapping Processes to Services (through Use Cases)

Hence, when requirements are expressed through use cases, and assuming they are to be realized (fully or partially) through services:

  • Persistency and functional units identified by business process would be mapped to messages and contracts.
  • Business processes would fit service policy.
  • Use case containers (aka systems) would be registered as service customers.

Alternatively, when requirements are set from users’ stories instead of use cases, persistency and functional units have to be elicited through stories, traced back to business processes, and consolidated into features. Those features will be mapped into system functionalities possibly, but not necessarily, implemented as services.

Mapping Processes to Services (through Users’ Stories)

Hence, while the mapping of business objects and logic respectively to messages and contracts will be similar with use cases and users’ stories, paths will differ for customers and policies:

  • Given that use cases deal explicitly with interactions at system boundaries, they represent a primary source of requirements for services’ customers and policy. Yet, as services are not supposed to be directly affected by interactions at systems boundaries, those elements would have to be consolidated across use cases.
  • Users’ stories for their part are told from a business process perspective that may take into account boundaries and actors but are not focused on them. Depending on the standpoint, it should be possible to define customers and policies requirements for services independently of the contingencies of local interactions.

In both cases, it would be necessary to factor out the non symbolic (aka non functional) part of requirements.

Non Functional Requirements: Quality of Service and System Boundaries

Non functional requirements are meant to set apart the constraints on systems’ resources and performances that could be dealt with independently of business contents. While some may target specific business applications, and others encompass a broader range, the aim is to separate business from architecture concerns and allocate the responsibilities (specification, development, and acceptance) accordingly.

Assuming an architecture of services aligned on capabilities, the first step would be to sort operational constraints:

  • Customers: constraints on usability, customization, response time, availability, …
  • Messages: constraints on scale, confidentiality, compliance with regulations, …
  • Contracts: constraints on scale, confidentiality, …
  • Policy: availability, reliability, maintenance, …
  • Endpoints: costs, maintenance, security, interoperability, …
BP2SOA_QoS
Non functional constraints may cut across services and capabilities

Since constraints may cut across services and capabilities, non functional requirements are not a given but the result of explicit decisions about:

  • Architecture level: should the constraint be dealt with locally (interfaces), at functional level (services), or at technical level (resources).
  • Services: when set at functional level, should the constraint be dealt with by business services (e.g domain or activity), or architecture ones (e.g authorization or orchestration).

The alignment of services with architecture capabilities will greatly enhance the traceability and rationality of those decisions.

A Simple Example

This example is based on the Purchase Order case published with the OMG specifications: http://www.omg.org/spec/SoaML/1.0/Beta2/PDF/

A simple purchase order process analyzed in terms of service customers, messages and entities (#), contracts, and policy (aka choreography)
A simple purchase order process analyzed in terms of service customers, messages and entities (#), contracts, and policy (aka choreography)

Further Reading

External References