The business architect role is vital to business process transformation

If you have not yet heard the term "business architect", you soon will, write John Rymer and Alexander Peters of Forrester Research. Whether business architects report into the business or IT, this emerging role will help usher in organisations' transition from IT to business technology (BT).

If you have not yet heard the term "business architect", you soon will, write John Rymer and Alexander Peters of Forrester Research. Whether business architects report into the business or IT, this emerging role will help usher in organisations' transition from IT to business technology (BT). Working with the firm's most senior business process executive - the change agent - and senior business stakeholders, the business architect plays a key part in shaping and fostering continuous improvement and business transformation initiatives.

No matter what the industry, business process professionals need an effective architecture for the business process management (BPM) projects that make up the business change programme. Working as the right hand of the business process change agent, the business architect takes the lead in developing that architecture. The business architect fleshes out the business model - often referred to as the target operating model - describing the need for business technology (BT) across the organisation and the role that process plays.

Business architects typically have deep business knowledge, essential for today's BPM transformation initiatives. Specifically, they must have comprehensive knowledge of large-scale, cross-functional processes - such as supply chain management, enterprise resource planning (ERP), finance, or customer resource management (CRM) - or extensive experience with core, strategic line-of-business processes.

Business architects must not only see the big picture when looking across multiple process improvement initiatives, they must also have business strategy talents, wide-ranging process discipline skills in methodologies such as Lean and Six Sigma, and technology know-how. Business architects have a rare combination of business domain knowledge, process experience, transformation talents, methodology skills, and a winning personality that helps with communication and business change management.

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Forrester believes that the business architect role is vital to organisations pursuing BPM programmes. These programmes are not only seeking to improve and transform cross-functional processes, but also to attempt to control the complexity that increasingly sophisticated technologies introduce and capitalise on relationships with customers and suppliers. In the survey Forrester carried out for this research, we found that organisations that were transforming their businesses, processes and information systems needed the business architect role most acutely.

Recognising the need for a business architect

What is not obvious to many who are still relatively new to the business process transformation scene is how this crucial position should be organised, who should occupy it, and what business architects should do. Our research also indicates that only a handful of firms are consistently trying to fill this role, in part because it is so difficult to fill - although business process professionals lead the way in bringing business architects into process transformation initiatives. Our survey of more than 150 businesses and IT executives who engage in business change programmes found that:

  • Business architect is too often a missing link that needs to emerge. Some 35% of organisations have not established the business architect role (level 1), 33% have developed some business architecture guidelines but do not use them across the organisation (level 2), and 20% have defined a consistent architecture framework for business processes (level 3). But only 6% of organisations use this framework to fuel the organisation's portfolio of business services for prioritising business process change investments (level 4); a further 6% see business architecture as a strategic capability for decision-making (level 5).
  • Management practices around the business architect position are a work in progress. Many of the respondents to our survey also reported fairly low maturity levels on the governance and lifecycle management practices critical to business architecture. For example, with respect to governance, only 19% of respondents confirmed that their organisations have set up cross-functional leadership teams, where business architects typically operate (level 3). Moreover, when asked about end-to-end process management, 46% of respondents said that their corporate initiatives for process and information insights pursue different objectives and are executed without coordination (level 2).

So where to begin? In our research, we found two established views of how organisations can charter and then fill the business architect position:

  1. A new organisation unifying process and project experts. The Business Architects Association (BAA) advocates placing a senior internal consultant with strong industry experience in the role of business architect, arguing that it is usually easier for businesspeople to learn technology than it is for technology experts to learn the business.
  2. A new career path for enterprise architects. Business architecture is also an emerging discipline and aspirational position within enterprise architecture (EA) practices and the teams that run them. Alignment within the organisation, bringing together business strategy and capabilities to drive results and/or transformation, is key to this approach.

Both the BAA model and the EA discipline approaches, however, have the limitation of usually being consultative in nature, unless the business architect reports into a process improvement organisation. We do see a third way to fill the need for a business architect: Charter the position as a management or executive function accountable to the senior business process executive for getting things done, rather than just advising others on what to do.

Independent role for business architects

So where should the business architect executive fit into the organisation? Our research suggests that many organisations try to leave their existing organisational structures in place without giving their business architects a strong independent role. The result of this approach will be an empty title and, ultimately, a failure to execute business transformation. A better way to organise this function is for the business architect to, firstly, report to the senior business process executive. The best reporting relationship is to the change agent - the chief process officer, senior executive for business process transformation, senior executive for continuous improvement, or a similar title.

The business architect should also set the direction for operations leaders. To execute a transformation vision, the business architect executive must rely on the actions of business unit executives and managers, heads of profit and loss and cost centre units, and other business process owners. These leaders currently take direction from the CEO and COO; they will also receive strong guidance on their roles in business transformation from the change agent and business architect executive.

Alexander Peters, PhD, is a principal analyst at Forrester Research. He will deliver a presentation on the role of the business architect in leading customer-centric transformation at Forrester's upcoming Business Process events in Boston, US (22-23 September), and in Hertfordshire, UK (30 November).

John Rymer is vice-president and principal analyst at Forrester Research.

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