What is a Business Architect?

Some years ago, I was asked: ‘What is the difference between a Business Analyst and a Business Architect?’

My reply was that a Business Architect was someone who can apply the techniques of business analysis to an architectural framework in a technology-agnostic way. There are other differences but that was what occurred to me at the time.

However, that led me to ask myself: ‘What is a Business Architect?’ I think there are two types, broadly speaking. One would be someone who can truly shape a business and decide, or at least advise, what its business model should be, what strategies it should put in place and what it needs to do to implement those strategies. I am not that type of business architect. That kind of strategic advisory role requires deep knowledge and insight into a particular business and a particular industry. However, the people with that knowledge often lack the formal language/framework to model their ideas. As the poet John Ciardi said: “The language of experience is not the language of classification” (which is why, on software development projects, simply writing requirements in business language so often leads to business people saying during UAT: “Yeah, but that’s not what we meant”).

My area of expertise is the language of classification, or, rather, languages because each modelling technique is a language of sorts with its own vocabulary, grammar and syntax. Modelling techniques also allow variations in method and style, which are effectively dialects. In other words, I am a technician, not a strategist. I am a ghost writer. I cannot tell you what your strategic goals should be but I can help you put structure on them to make them clear and unambiguous. I cannot tell you what your business model should be but I can help you describe it formally in the language of the Business Model Canvas. In asking you the kind of questions the rigour of the canvas demands, I can help you articulate things that are so normal to you that you wouldn’t otherwise have thought they needed to be articulated, or help you think of things you wouldn’t otherwise have thought of at all.

Business Architecture is typically defined as:

‘A blueprint of the enterprise that provides a common understanding of the
organization and is used to align strategic objectives and tactical demands.’

With that in mind, I would say the strategist provides the content of that blueprint, while the technician provides the form. Ideally, an organisation would have a Business Architect who is a combination of strategist and technician but a strategist would likely not have the time to gain experience in the detail of technical models of the 2nd row of the Zachman Framework. On the other hand, a technician would not likely have the time to gain the business experience. However, their experience and skill sets are complementary. In fact, my view is that the 1st row of the Zachman Framework is where the two types of Business Architect mostly collaborate.

If I were to be precise, and those who have worked with me know that is one of my strengths, I would label myself a “Business Architecture Analyst” in that I analyse the architecture of a business, rather than the business itself.

Well, I’m glad I cleared that up.

What are your thoughts?

Kind regards.

Declan Chellar

2 comments to What is a Business Architect?

  • I see the business architect role as being someone who gets involved early on to shape the vision and overall technological direction for the project from a strategic point of view. To do this they will work with the business to understand the problems, opportunities and needs. They will also look at the processes and where improvements can be made, not necessarily IT related. For example, strategic solutions may involve reviewing and changing the target operating model. Business Architects will have knowledge or be able to work with other IT architects to identify what solutions should be adapted taking into account the capabilities of the organisation and the future direction.

    Regards, Helen

    • Declan Chellar

      Thanks for taking the time to comment, Helen. I agree with you in all but one point, which is the one about shaping the technological direction. I believe the Business Architect role should remain technology agnostic in order to focus on what the business needs, whether or not the technology exists to fulfil those needs. That’s not to say Business Architects can’t or shouldn’t be aware of technology but shaping technological direction should be down to Technical Solutions Architects working under an Enterprise Architect. Of course, I’m talking about roles, not people. A person could play more than one role, as long as that person was able to wear the right hat at the right moment.

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