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The Buzz Around Business Architecture
Forrester says business architecture is coming to the fore -- and could raise interesting questions for technology departments.
Posted Oct 27, 2008
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According to two recent reports from Forrester Research, interest in the business architecture space is growing dramatically. The two reports -- "Business Architecture's Time Has Come" and "The Up-and-Coming Business Architect" -- represent the start of a planned series, says Forrester analyst Jeff Scott, an author on the reports, who adds that the area is definitely worth taking notice of. (The latter study was co-authored by Katie Smillie.)

Business architects, who do not solely reside on the technology side, deal with the structure of an enterprise in terms of governance structure, business processes, and business information. Scott says he's unsure whether interest in business architecture (BA) represents a sustainable trend or something that will fade away over the next five years, but he notes that the current wave signifies the continual desire for alignment between the line-of-business and technology teams. "What's happening is that architects are realizing, ‘Well, we've done well with the technology side and it's time to start moving on,' " Scott says. "That seems to be happening with the business perking up interest in more process improvement."

Scott takes pains to separate BA from the larger umbrella of enterprise architecture. "Though there is a great deal of discussion, there is little consensus about what business architecture is, how it should be pursued, and what value it delivers," he writes, adding that the role of the business architect within an enterprise was not common as recently as two years ago. "Their ultimate goals are to improve business decision-making and facilitate better alignment between [the information technology department] and the business units it supports."

Scott outlines challenges that businesses face in terms of architecture:

  • Weak business connections: Technology staffers often have little exposure to the organization's actual business operations, leading to a disconnect.
  • Inadequate business skills: Business architects need to speak the language of the business and be familiar with the organization as a whole -- not just specific workflows.
  • Business leaders' paradigms: It's hard for executives to grasp the concept of BA.
  • A complicated value proposition: Those on the business side struggle to see how the technology team can help them do business better.
  • A lack of clear models: There's no such thing as a plain-vanilla industry model. Many organizations are using multiple business models or look to consultants to put the pieces together.

Despite the roadblocks, research indicates that BA is moving out of the "nice-to-have" category and toward the "need-to-have" one. Of Scott's 245 respondents, 50 percent said their companies have an active BA initiative, and an additional 20 percent said that their companies are planning to launch one.

Where does CRM fit into the mix? The overlap, according to Scott, lies within applications. "The touch point between business architecture and [information technology] is the application portfolio," he writes. "The business architects we talked with view the portfolio's contents as part of the business architecture, though they typically exclude the underlying technologies and processes that describe how the portfolio is built."

According to the survey, more than one-third of companies have business architects in at least one of three units: enterprise architecture, line-of-business, and information technology. Most companies have between one and five business architects in each organizational unit. What does that kind of distributed approach to BA mean for the technology department in particular? "The real question is whether there is enough momentum in the business architecture space that traditional IT architects are going to be faced with a decision about their role and their focus," Scott points out. "Will they have to decide between an IT architecture and dealing with technology or taking a business architecture focus and becoming more of a strategist? Over the next two to five years there should be more visibility about the challenge with that [paradigm]."

[Update: Due to a reporting error, earlier versions of this story inaccurately credited the analyst firm involved in this research. The editors regret the error.]

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