What Do Business Architects Do? Five FAQs

Posted February 8, 2017 | Technology |
Whynde Kuehn

There is a common set of questions burning in peoples’ minds when they think about the business architect role, whether they are new to the discipline or experienced but seeking to compare approaches. In this Advisor, we address these important questions based on practical experience and best practices employed by a wide range of industries, organizations, and geographies.

1. What Do Business Architects Do?

There are a number of misconceptions about what business architects do. For example, they do not just build repositories. They do not work as project resources. They are not simply an extension of the business analyst role.

The business architect role is a strategic one that works at an enterprise level across business units. At a high level, business architects:

  • Facilitate the application of business architecture for business and IT value. This one cannot be emphasized enough. To have value, the business architecture must be used in support of various scenarios where it can, for example, provide quick and comprehensive impact analysis, align the organization around a common vision of the future, and prioritize initiatives across the enterprise. Once the knowledgebase is well-enough established, the majority of business architects’ time should be spent applying business architecture in support of change initiatives and decision making, such as business transformations, mergers and acquisitions, project portfolio management, and application portfolio management.

  • Build and maintain the business architecture knowledgebase. This includes bringing people together across business units to define the business architecture content as well as working with related disciplines to map the business architecture to other components (e.g., system applications, processes, requirements).

  • Provide input to and assist with the internal business architecture practice. This includes providing input to or taking responsibility for the foundational activities necessary to build and apply business architecture effectively, such as team training, governance, tool maintenance, and socialization.

2. How Do We Build a Great Business Architecture Team?

There may have been a time when we were looking to hire business architects that fit a certain pattern, but experience has shown us that what makes a great business architecture team is diversity. When a team has a collection of skills and personalities, it performs better because it can address a broader range of scenarios, build partnerships with different types of people, and solve problems more comprehensively. Business architects are also happier and want to stay on the team because they can leverage their strengths and do what they enjoy. Creating a diverse business architecture team should be an intentional goal and can be developed through varying the following:

  • Levels of knowledge and experience. A team with a range of business architecture expertise and varied backgrounds not only allows for better coverage of business architecture scenarios, but also provides business architects with a career path and alleviates hiring and compensation demands.

  • Concentrations. The focus of a business architect can vary by one or more of the following:

    • The scenarios they carry out (e.g., strategy translation, business transformation, project portfolio management)

    • The business domains they architect

    • The aspects of the practice they contribute to or perform

Having specific concentrations across a business architecture team provides coverage and allows for expertise and relationships to develop. Business architects can also do “rotations” to give them exposure and fresh experiences.

  • Personalities. Business architects are naturally drawn to different aspects of the role. For example, some enjoy facilitation and relationship-building, while others prefer to build and leverage the knowledgebase. Having a range of personalities on the business architecture team allows coverage for different types of activities and connections to form with different types of people.

3. How Many Business Architects Do We Need?

This one requires an “it depends.” A couple key drivers of the answer are the size of your organization and the amount of change initiatives that are planned or in flight. Also, keep in mind that the size of your business architecture team may need to shift over time depending on the level of organizational change occurring at any point in time. There are two key factors, though, that can help you to approximate the number of business architects you need:

  1. Number of business domains. A business architect may be assigned to cover one or more business domain. A domain could be defined as a business unit or more horizontally, such as a group of related capabilities that span business units. The type and amount of change initiatives may influence how many domains you assign to an architect and even how you define the domains in the first place. If you have significant change occurring within a domain, it may require multiple business architects.

  2. Practice support. As your team grows, you will likely need additional help performing business architecture practice activities such as maintaining the knowledgebase, training business architects, facilitating governance processes, and providing communication. Some organizations assign a team member(s) to focus on these activities versus spreading the responsibility across all architects. There may be a need for non-business architect resources as well, such as people who create illustrations or provide tool support.

As with any new endeavor, consider ramping up to your ideal number over time to ensure that you have a solid foundation of buy-in and practice infrastructure in place first.

4. Where Do We Find Business Architects?

There is a high demand for a limited number of experienced business architects, partially due to the fact that business architecture is still an emerging discipline so the pool is small. Many people assume that the business analyst community is the best place to look for potential business architects, but it depends on the person. Great business architects can come from anywhere. Stay open-minded, and accept that you will need to invest time to train and align the team.

Some options to consider are:

  • Hire an experienced business architect who has worked in another organization.

  • Hire a business person (e.g., from an area such as strategy, planning, or innovation) from within or outside of your organization and training them on business architecture.

  • Hire an IT person (e.g., business or systems analyst, IT architect, or another role) from within or outside of your organization and training them on both the business and business architecture.

It is wise to consider all of these options, not only because it will increase your available pool of talent, but because it will also lead to a more diverse business architecture team.

5. Where Should Business Architects Report?

There has been a trend of business architects reporting to the business for several years now and with success. This allows them to have more access to and often more acceptance from the business. Where exactly the team reports can vary, but it is often to a business leader responsible for strategy, planning and/or transformation, or even a C-level executive. Another option is for business architects to report to an enterprise architecture leader in IT or another IT leader. This makes for a more cohesive enterprise architecture team, but may create distance from the business and make it harder to gain adoption.

The best answer to this question, though, is: where it works best for your organization. Organizations have succeeded and failed on both sides. Start where you can start and keep in mind that many organizations shift where the business architecture team reports over time. For example, a business architecture team might be incubated within IT, but later report to a business leader.

No matter where the business architecture team reports, keep in mind:

  • It is a strategic role that needs to work across business units, so position it for success.

  • Business architects always need to maintain strong partnerships with both the business and with the enterprise architecture team.

  • Set expectations upfront that where the team reports and even how it is structured could change over time.

About The Author
Whynde Kuehn
Whynde Kuehn is a Cutter Expert, a member of Arthur D. Little’s AMP open consulting network, and Managing Director of S2E Transformation Inc. She is also a Fellow at the Institute for Digital Transformation and author of the book Strategy to Reality. Ms. Kuehn is passionate about bridging the gap between strategy and execution. She has extensive experience in enterprise transformation and planning and was a key player in one of the largest… Read More