The Business Architect Cometh

John Rymer
Vice President, Principal Analyst
August 4, 2011

[Forrester Principal Analyst Alexander Peters, PhD. and I collaborated on this research.]

You may have heard the term "business architect" in your travels; if you haven't, you soon will. A significant number of our clients are searching for these new leaders. Broadly, BAs are responsible for developing and managing an organization's business model and business technology (BT) agenda. The business architect fills the gap between business management and IT management. One way to bridge the gap is to make it someone's responsibility to do so.

In our research, we spoke to individuals occupying this crucial role in a large European agency, a large financial services firm, a regional healthcare provider, a diversified energy provider, and a logistics firm. The need for BAs is most acute in organizations that are in the midst of transforming their businesses and information systems.

The need for business architects is manifest, but what's less apparent to these firms is how this role should be structured, who should occupy it, and what a BA's responsibilities should be (as illustrated by wide variations in job ads for the position). In our research, we found two established models for the BA role:

Both the BAA model and the enterprise architecture models suffer a common weakness: They define a role that is consultative in nature rather than a role that is responsible for getting things done. Key decisions and execution strategies are left in the hands of other organizations. Also, in both the BAA and EA models, the BA has no direct accountability for the successful execution of transformation plans and decisions. With no accountability, there's neither a strong incentive nor the authority to sweat the details that result in success.

We recommend a third model for chartering business architects: Establish the role as an executive function accountable for getting things done rather than just advising others on what to do. We call this approach the business architecture executive. We saw this model employed in a regional healthcare insurer and a financial services firm. Forrester clients, see the full research report for a detailed description of the business architecture executive role. We include recommendations for both application development & delivery professionals and business process pros on this topic. (Hint: What a great opportunity for you!)

Our definition of business architect as executive may never fly as a new title and department within enterprises. But we believe it is likely to become how the top corporate technology leader — whatever his or her title — functions in the future. Forrester has long predicted that the future of IT is business technology (BT). BT leaders have a seat at the corporate strategy and planning table. To have a seat at the executive table, an individual needs high status in the organization. Certainly, a business analyst who works as a consultant and an enterprise architect-cum-business architect do not have enough status. These formulations of the BA role describe a staff function, not an executive leadership position. The most likely candidate to fill the BA executive role, then, is a C-level executive. We've seen CIOs as well as chief process officers play this role. Thus, we believe our business architect as executive model forms the core job description of a BT leader.

What's your experience with this topic?

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