No One Said It Would Be Easy: Business Architects In The Digital Age

Defining Business Architecture

Today, many organizations still struggle to define what the role of a Business Architect should be and how to clearly articulate the value of Business Architecture to leadership. So let’s start by dispelling some popular myths about Business Architecture.

Business Architects are NOT:

  • assigned the next ‘hot potato’ project that has been delegated up to leadership
  • the same as Process, Technology/Enterprise, and Organizational Architectures
  • focused on solving technical challenges e.g. implementing a new system or improving business processes
  • improving business operation as it exists currently

Two Types of Business Architects

Like most disciplines, the definition is changing in response to the business operations evolution that companies are wrestling with today. From a traditional perspective, business architecture is a discipline that focuses on identifying, developing, and maintaining the business capabilities needed in the enterprise to deliver strategy. In this traditional view, practitioners are divided into two camps – those that follow the Zachman Framework and those that follow TOGAF – (The Open Group Architecture Framework). The main difference being that the Zachman Framework is more focused on defining the interaction among a wide range of company activities and TOGAF is more focused on technology and its role in the company’s operation.

While that was true for the past, the jury is still out for the future. As it is evolving, Business Architecture and its practitioners (Business Architects) are taking on a more business focus and are becoming ever more involved in translating strategy into action. This discipline is elevating its focus and looks at people, process, technology, financial reality, and customer requirements to define how the company strategy will be delivered and how the company must change to deliver strategic goals. In doing this, the Business Architect remains fully aware of current capabilities and their strengths and weaknesses as well as how they will need to change to do two things. The first is to deliver the current strategy. The second is to identify how the company needs to change to deliver both current and anticipated capabilities in the future quickly, at low cost, and with little risk or disruption.

How Business Architects Add Value

Business Architects add value by:

  • facilitating processes that bridge the gap between business planning and strategy execution
  • defining the business strategy implementation and how the company will need to invest in business capability gaps that hamper the delivery of strategic objectives by partnering with the Strategy Office, OpEx Leaders, Technologists, and others
  • identifying adaptive challenges such as the redefinition of the revenue model to consider asymmetrical competition or how to integrate an acquisition while changing their culture to be outcomes oriented

The History of Business Architecture

Business Architecture began to emerge as a practice in the mid-1980s, but it wasn’t until the first certification exam was offered in 2010 that the discipline was formally recognized as a distinct professional field. Since then, Business Architecture has come a long way. A quick LinkedIn search will result in hundreds, if not thousands, of people with Business Architecture (or some variant) in their title. However, as with any new discipline, the role of a Business Architect continues to evolve. As it proves its worth, expectations continue to grow around how this role can reduce operating expense, drive profitable growth, and accelerate transformation.

An example of this evolution is that more recently Business Architects are leveraging the emerging adaptive leadership research being done at Harvard with Ronald Heifetz to help organizations build adaptive capacity and resilience in the face of continuous change.

The Evolving Role of Business Architecture

As the next decade approaches, business and digital transformations have become the norm. Business Architects play a big role in facilitating the discussions that lead to the decision making and the prioritization of investments that will help or hinder these critical transformations. Business Architects will find themselves guiding and supporting leadership to make the right bets and position the organization for successfully iterating on the existing and emerging business model.

Business Architects are deeply involved in business transformation and working to ensure that:  

  • appropriate, simple and understandable methodologies and tools are employed
  • time is made with leadership to create and support strategy execution
  • clear linkages between Process, Technology, and Organization architects are defined to accelerate collaboration and results
  • internal competition is minimized, and attention focused on collectively building capabilities and delivering results
  • digitization and business transformation are linked to drive business outcomes

Assessing Your Reality As A Business Architect

This brief assessment will help you determine your organization’s readiness to unleash the capabilities of a Business Architect.

Leadership is aligned around strategic objectives and the organization is structured to minimize boundaries and focus on delivering end-to-end processesYes/No
Business Architects work with leadership to understand and define the ‘next’ iteration of the business model while ensuring competitive differentiation and profitable growthYes/No
Your leadership supports an annual strategy-to-execution process, facilitated by business architects, to refresh the business strategy, align talent to key capabilities and prioritize investments within capability gapsYes/No
Business Architects are not part of an internal SWAT team chartered with solving the next ‘hot potato’ project that has been delegated up Yes/No
One of your organization’s key market differentiators is the delivery of a unique customer experienceYes/No
Business, Process, Technology / Enterprise and Organizational Architects work together to facilitate business planning and strategy executionYes/No
Resources are aligned to capabilities that drive strategic objectives, not based on internal politics or competitionYes/No
Transformation is driven at the business level and is enabled by technology, not the other way aroundYes/No
The culture is performance-based, and metrics are aligned from the strategic objectives, to business units, functional / departments and finally to individual rolesYes/No
Change, both internal and external, is embraced and the ability to work in a fluid environment is a core element of the organization’s cultureYes/No

How Well Are You Doing?

Total the number of statements that you answered “Yes” to and see your results as follows:

  • 10  – Your role is clear, and you have the full support of leadership
  • 7-9 Continue the good work and leverage existing leadership relationships to turn all your answers to ‘yes’
  • 6 – You have an uphill climb ahead of you. Find allies within leadership to gain traction
  • 0-5 – You are going to need help if you plan to stay in your current organization

As with any new discipline, the practitioners will face hurdles. But then again, no one said entering into the field of Business Architecture would be easy. Especially when that field borders on so many different functions such as strategy, customer experience, investment decisions, automation, and implementing adaptive organizational structures.

It is in collaboration across the entire organization that a Business Architect is able to add value by building alignment and cohesive action towards strategic objectives. Building bridges across department lines is a great starting point for any Business Architecture.

If you are ready to explore how Business Architecture can continue to align and enable your organization’s success, contact us. At LeaderShift Insights we help organizations do more with what they already have.