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Business Modelling Architecture

Functions: The Essential Starting Point

All good analysis and modelling is achieved by starting in the right place.  That is with the core activities of the enterprise – its Business Functions.

If you have not started in the right place, then you need to know how to get back there. The Hierarchy of Models shown below (this is an essential element in the Modelling Architecture of any enterprise) will enable you to do this.


If you are working on a model and have not built the preceding model(s) then you are not going to achieve a Quality outcome. For example, if you are modelling Processes and have not yet built your Function Model, then you are in trouble.  This failure to first model Functions is one of the main reasons why most BPM projects fail to deliver.

Business Functions

The simplest, yet most powerful, definition of Business Functions is that they unambiguously describe of WHAT the enterprise OUGHT to be doing.

So, whenever anyone comes to model some facet of the enterprise or bring about change, they must first be able to answer the question, “WHAT is it that the enterprise OUGHT to be doing?” If this is not known – and, if they have not yet modelled the Business Functions, it will not be known – then there is no way of determining whether or not the change will move the enterprise closer to where it ought to be or further away.

This truth has been known by good programmers for decades, who ever reminded themselves of the maxim, “Before you make sure that the code is right, make sure that it is the right code” – make sure you know what is meant to to be doing!

It’s a pity that so many business analysts, data analysts and BPM practitioners do not practice this maxim.

Another common error, made by analysts and business people alike, is using the term “Function” when they mean a business department. So wrong!

Business Process

A Business Process is a formal, structured description of the required sequence of execution of Business Functions in response to a Business Trigger, in order to arrive at a Preferred Business Outcome. It will be obvious from this that, before you can model Business Processes, you must first have modelled the Business Functions.

Process is perhaps the MOST misunderstood term in the world of business analysis and BPM, most times being mistaken for Function. The key here is the term “sequence”. If there is no sequence, there is no Process. Also, the Process does not define the actions – they are the Functions – it merely defines the sequence of the actions.

Business Mechanism

Mechanisms are the means by which Business Functions are executed. One Function might be executed by several mechanisms. For example, the Function “Accept Customer Order” might be done by phone, by fax, by e-mail or as an online transaction. All very different Mechanisms but the same Function.

Business Procedure

A Business Procedure is a formal, structured description of the sequence of execution of the Business Mechanisms for the Business Functions contained in a Business Process.

Business Procedure is also misunderstood and very often mistaken for Business Process. This is reflected in the fact that most of the “Process Modeling” software available in the marketplace is in fact merely Procedure modelling software and entirely unsuited to Process Modelling.

If in doubt, remember that Process is the sequence of WHAT, Procedure is the sequence of HOW.

Data Structure Model

This might come as a shock to many data analysts and business managers alike, Data Models are business models!  They are all about the business and they must be owned by the business.

Data Models are derived directly from Business Functions so, without first modelling the Business Functions, you cannot build an effective data model.

Three Basic Data Quality Rules

  1. All data modelling MUST begin with a Logical Data Model, that is, a model showing the data structure of the enterprise in terms of the entities, attributes, relationships and unique identifiers required to support all of the Business Functions.
  2. A model showing tables, rows and keys is a Database Schema, NOT a Logical Data Model.
  3. No effective database can be built without first building a logical data model! This takes us back to the programming maxim, as it is the logical data model that defines what OUGHT to be there.

Information Flow Model

The Information Flow Model (often incorrectly termed a Data Flow Diagram or DFD) is an intersection between Business Functions and Data Structure and shows how information flows between Functions in the enterprise and between the enterprise and outside world.

They are also a very useful modelling technique for information gathering and can be used to add elements to both the Business Function Model and the Data Structure Model.

Data State Model

This is another model that shows the intersection between Business Function and Data Structure, as it shows the various states in which data entities can exist and the Business Functions required to move them from one state to the next.


The Business Model Hierarchy can act as a roadmap in modelling. If you are working on any model and have not built the preceding model(s) then you are not going to achieve a Quality outcome.  Also, if you have not started in the right place, then the Model Hierarchy can help you to get back there


3 Responses to “Business Modelling Architecture”

  1. Craig Brown February 2, 2012 6:35 pm #

    John, upon further reflection this strikes me as missing some context. What functions ought to be in the organization being analysed and for what purpose? What outcomes is it seeking?

    Do you have this addressed in another part of your model?

    • John Owens February 3, 2012 3:06 am #

      Hi Craig

      That purpose of the Function Model is to define what functions ought to be in the the business area being analysed, it defines the core activities of the business or business area in question. It is the model that portrays senior management’s definition of WHAT the business (or business area) OUGHT to be doing, independent from who does it, how it is done or the sequence in which it is done.

      The Function Model or Function Catalogue is a unique, ‘non-redundant’ (i.e. no duplication) listing of the core activities of the enterprise. It is the only model that is non-redundant. All other models (e.g. Process Models, Procedure Models and DFDs) can have endless duplication as each one makes multiple use of Functions, for example, any number of Processes can contain the same Business Function.

      So, the context of the Function Model is that it defines the business. Because it is a unique catalogue of the core activities of the business, it is probably the most powerful business model that a business can have.

      I hope that this helps. I expand on all of this in my eBook IMM Function Modelling.

      Kind Regards

  2. Craig Brown September 8, 2010 1:08 pm #


    that pretty much sums it up doesn’t it!

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