This may seem a strange question to ask and the answer may seem obvious. Universities educate students and undertake research. And perhaps they work with industrial partners and create spin-off companies of their worn. And they may work with local communities, and affiliation bodies for certain degress, and they definitely report on their activities to government bodies such as HEFCE. They provide student services and support. The longeryou think about it, the more things you can think of that a University does.
In business, the things that an organisation does are called "capabilities", which is a slightly strange term. I think it is linked to the HR idea of a combination of the CAPacity and ABILITY to do a task. Whatever the name, it is a useful concept. A capability is more basic than a process: a University may change the way it educates students but as long as it remains a University it will educate them one way or another.
A capability map is basically a nested list of things the University does, starting with the very high level ideas such as "education", "research" and "support services", and with the nested levels expanded on the more detailed capabilities that comprise the high-level ones. Last week, UCISA published a generic capability map that describes a typical UK University, accompanied by a set of explanatory videos.
The map is not an organisational structure. It does not describe which unit or units performs each capability. It merely says that someone, somewhere - possibly many people - do this activity.
A capability map is useful in giving all the stakeholders of the University an overall picture of what the University does. You can analyse who "owns" each activity - e.g. who is responsible for student recruitment in your institution, or for research management? If several people are responsible for the same capability, you can start conversations about how the work is subdivided and whether the various teams work well together. If no-one at all is responsible, you have a problem!
Business architects can map processes and services to each capability. Stakeholders can create a heat map to reflect which areas are working well and which need attention. Strategic planning can check whether they have management information about each important capability. And so on and so forth. The capability map provides a common framework that people may use to structure a variety of analyses.
The UCISA model is a stepping stone to creating a capability model for your own University. It also establishes a common vocabulary, so people from different institutions can compare thoughts and observations. I encourage everyone to take a look.