Business Architecture – the natural next step for a Business Analyst?

Throughout my time as a Business Analyst, I had always thought anything related to Enterprise Architecture was incredibly technical, and therefore was unlikely to be something that would be a sensible path for my career. Since moving into an Enterprise Architect role, I’ve now realised just how wrong I was and over the past few years I have come to realise just how important the skills of a Business Analyst are not only for an organisation, but in particular for Business Architecture.

I had always understood business analysis had three areas of expertise within it, I understood these to be:

  1. Business Strategy
  2. Requirements Definition
  3. Systems Analysis

This is what I saw around me both in the workplace and when speaking to peers externally. I believed a business analyst would typically find their ‘home’ somewhere along the spectrum, settling in the area where they were interested in and/or most likely to excel at. I personally aimed to be similar to ‘Business Analyst C’ in the image below, to allow me to be the most flexible and most effective business analyst I could be. In my view it was essential to understand the technology landscape within the organisation (to be able to be a ‘trusted advisor’) as well as be able to understand the strategy and the rationale behind a project to ensure the right requirements were prioritised. I would spend my days acting as a bridge between technical and non-technical colleagues and so I needed to be adaptable like ‘Business Analyst C’ in the image below.

Fig. 1 – Business Analysis Responsibility Spectrum

In my organisation a business analyst would typically be one of the first resources assigned to a project and, as agile methodology was still relatively new at the time, a business analyst would quickly be moved onto the next project once their responsibilities in the early phases of the project were complete. The lack of ongoing ownership and opportunity to learn from mistakes always troubled me, but essentially it meant the business analyst was always looking ahead at ‘the next big thing’. Typically, the business analyst was onboarded after the business had already decided on the strategy and the project that was needed to achieve their goals. The business analyst’s role was then to understand the strategy, shape the scope to ensure it would deliver the strategy, occasionally validate the expected benefits and always document the requirements that would deliver the desired business outcomes.

Then I learned about Business Architecture. The identification of Business Architecture as a discipline made me wonder where it would fit alongside the business analyst spectrum, I understood to be true. Did Business Architecture threaten the role of the Business Analyst and force a Business Analyst further ‘right’? Or would the role of the Business Analyst change forever?

The reality is the skills and tools used by Business Analysts and Business Architects are incredibly similar. Tools such as PESTLE and SWOT are useful for any ‘BA’ Toolkit, Business Process Mapping and Stakeholder Mapping are also shared skills and the ability to quickly understand the needs and perspectives of those around you and relay that back in a way that drives cohesion is also a huge asset for any Business Architect or Business Analyst. In fact, if you look purely as the core skills, personality traits and motivations of Business Architects and Business Analysts, I think you’d struggle to spot one BA from another BA. Even the acronyms are the same!

So, what is the difference? The key difference is that a Business Architect needs to provide an enterprise-wide perspective, earlier in the change process and on a longer-term horizon. As a result of the broader, longer term horizon and the earlier engagement, the Business Analysis tools and techniques will still be used, just in a different context. New tools also appear and become essential ‘go-to’ tools in the Business Architecture toolkit (e.g., the OMG model, or the Business Model Canvas). The principles, behaviours and core skills all remain the same, but there is a need for Business Architects to provide guidance and direction to steer the change in the right direction as early as possible.

What does that do to the business analyst spectrum? In my view, the business analyst responsibilities remain, as is, in fact, with the right support of business architecture their role should hopefully be a lot easier and even broader as they may get involved earlier. The trick (unsurprisingly) is to have a great relationship.

 

Fig. 2 – Business Architecture Responsibility Spectrum

So, what are the traits and skills that all BAs share? Here’s my list of top 5 Business Architecture skills, that are also shared with Business Analysts:

  1. Communication The ability to listen, ask the right question at the right time and understand the nuance in what’s being discussed is an extremely hard skill to learn, but unsurprisingly it’s something that great business architects and business analysts share.
  2. Stakeholder Management In addition to understanding the perspective of others, being able to identify and work well with your key stakeholders is another thing both excel at. To be able to gain consensus and find a way forward, without this skill both roles become difficult.
  3. Market Context & A Natural Curiosity To be able to identify the change required and spot the gaps in the thinking of others, market context and awareness is essential. A BA needs to have a good understanding of the current state, problems and potential opportunities. It’s a role that requires you to constantly learn, adapt and expand your thinking. The world doesn’t stand still, so neither should a BA.
  4. Creativity Seeing a recommendation or pathway that isn’t currently there and communicating it effectively also requires a certain level of creativity. The need to create presentations that resonate and identify alternative options that haven’t yet been considered makes creativity a huge asset for a BA.
  5. Structure Lastly, knowing that a BAs role is to give a project the best chance of success, it’s essential that they can bring together all of the above and create structure. Without the ability to bring everything together and create cohesion amongst the chaos, it will be incredibly hard to see successful results.

So, what can we all do with this additional knowledge about the similarities between the two BA roles? Firstly, I’d like to encourage you to understand the skills you need in your organisation, not just at the strategic planning stage but also during mobilisation and delivery. Understand your gaps, as you may find you need more than just business architecture to really embed the change. Secondly, next time you’re looking for a great Business Architect, or if you are thinking about building up a Business Architecture practice in your organisation, then please do look first at your in-house business analysts. They probably know the organisation and market better than most and really could be your biggest asset in helping to accelerate your business architecture journey.

Ria Truman is an Enterprise Architect at Walgreens Boots Alliance. She is an advocate of bringing everything back to the customer or end user experience to drive value for both customers and the organisation. Her areas of expertise are retail and digital transformation. She can be reached at hello@riatruman.com