Women in Architecture Spotlight – Amy Browning

Featured in this week’s spotlight is Amy Browning, Business Architect at United Services Automobile Association (USAA).

Browning is a results-driven career business architect with extensive Fortune 100 experience.  She is expert in strategy implementation for complex enterprise transformations.  A “forever learner,” Browning is helping forge the standard for strategic business architecture.

Following below, she shares some of her insights about her successful career and what she sees in the future.

Question: How did you get your start in the industry?

Answer: On a total whim!  Which is uncharacteristic of me.  But, it was the best career decision I’ve made.  A friend from my M.B.A. program, who was leaving his business architect position, recommended that I replace him.  I had never heard of the role.  However, I was a contract negotiator, and I didn’t particularly enjoy it.  So, I became a business architect and never looked back.

That was in 2006, when business architecture was very much less defined.  In that first iteration, I led a lot of business model integration efforts–the early form of who does “what” (capabilities) to deliver the value.  I later spun out to consult in architecture, landing a nice engagement at a food services company.  They had their enterprise architecture reporting to their chief strategist, which was refreshing.  I explored value networks, capability mapping, and process architecture, in addition to leading the enterprise architecture governance.

In the last 8 years, I’ve had the fortune to serve in a large financial services company, moving about every few years and building up my toolbox of business architecture skills.   I feel fortunate to have grown with business architecture since infancy.

Q: What is your current responsibility and what is your typical day like?

A: My recent responsibility has been establishment of a new business architecture practice.  Meaning, practice development from the ground up–the business architecture framework, principles, common business vocabulary, business capability map, value streams, capability maturity assessment tool, blueprint templates (strategy, heatmaps, roadmaps), and processes and training.

The highlight of my year has been influencing all business architect leaders across the enterprise to align to my re-write of the business architect job family.  All business architects now have industry-aligned requirements allowing for meaningful development conversations with their leaders, in addition to more targeted recruiting of external talent.

As we know, with small business architecture teams, the practice work has to be balanced with client engagements to ensure the business is gleaning value.  So, my days are prioritized by client work, and then spread across team member coaching and collaboration, education/communication, and continued practice maturity.

Q: What do you like most about your job?

A: Nothing gives me more joy than witnessing a successful strategy implementation.   For executives, it’s usually the satisfaction of knowing they finally gave their teams the strategic clarity for which they’ve been asking.   It also allows executives to have trade-off discussions at a higher altitude, getting them out of the weeds where they shouldn’t be.

And usually, it’s the first experience for my counterparts to move up so close to the strategy and to contribute to the target state.  An information architect told me once that my efforts were his career highlights.  A technical architect took his experience and my blueprints to his technical forums to show power of business architecture.  Those wins I can hang my hat on—business architecture is needed and effective.

For the agile portfolio managers, it’s a direct feed into their backlog.  I’ve tested over the years to tailor my data collection in strategy deconstruction and capability-based planning to make my deliverables feed the portfolio business cases (e.g. my target state descriptor becomes their epic acceptance criteria).  In more than one case, my efforts have been the “little engine that could.” Meaning, I took a low priority business strategy and so clearly architected its value, it ended up getting funding.  I just need an executive who can be vulnerable and answer my questions, to rally the community around it.  It’s exhilarating.  Transforming businesses is my passion!

Q: What trends in architecture are you looking out for the rest of 2023 and 2024?

A: There are two trends to which I’m tracking that could be huge for business architecture.  First, I’m watching the momentum behind the chief transformation officer (CTO).  As in past waves of the chief digital officer, enterprise project management office, and to some extent the chief omnichannel officer, the CTO has similar aspirations of vertical transparency for maximum value delivery.  Without a common and governed business architecture, the horizontal alignment and insights cannot be optimized, or realized in many cases.  The various transformation roles popping up have complementary and somewhat overlapping job requirements with business architects, but without the benefit of training or certification, let alone a body of knowledge and industry reference tools.  This may be a real opportunity for business architects to lean in as coaches and extend our reach through these new roles, and serve up that governed knowledgebase to be the horizontal thread.

I recently completed a second master’s degree—the Enterprise Architecture & Business Transformation program at Penn State.   During my research, I discovered that there’s no existing scholarly publication describing what effective strategy communication looks like.  The other trend I’m actively testing is the use of generative AI for accelerating the strategy deconstruction (communication) service.  Initially from the current state perspective, and if companies can eventually wall off and contribute their own data, target state gaps can be derived.  This is the kind of stuff that will energize me in the years to come.

Q: What is one thing we can do to support or increase the women in architecture?

A: Speaking from my experience, business architects are primarily women and technical architects are majority men.  With technical architecture being formalized decades before business architecture, my technical counterparts tend to have the established business executive relationships.  Time and time again, business executives invite the technical architects to important meetings and planning sessions, perhaps not even thinking to invite the business architects.  I unequivocally know my technical counterparts want business architecture to be successful—they are exhausted trying to interpret business meaning and prioritization.  So, to my male counterparts, I ask—look around you at the table.  If your female architect is the best one for the topic at hand, ask for her inclusion.  Elevating us to where you know we provide the most value will help us forge the relationships we need for long-term success.