Assuming that “Architecture” can be generically defined as “the art and science of designing or constructing something” (adapted from here and here), then what exactly is Business Architecture?

Extending the generalized definition above, a Business Architect should be “someone concerned with the art and science of designing and constructing a business.”  Note the verb: constructing.  A business architect needs to be able to construct a business… from parts.

Reality check: How many people, with the title of business architect, are responsible for constructing a business? 

Most present business architects are technologists, concerned primarily with the alignment of IT projects to business strategies.  They may be planners or solution owners or process owners… but most work in IT departments of large organizations, often directly with the Enterprise Architecture function.

But if we take the view that a Business Architect is responsible for designing a business, or constructing it from constituent parts, then who should have the title of Business Architect?  Should it be an IT person… or should it be a business person?

I do not believe that Business Architecture is a technical function. 

In fact, I don’t believe that IT people do a good job, at all, of describing the architecture of a business, much less making design decisions about the structure, roles, responsibilities, and coordinated artifacts that make up Business Architecture.

But if it is a business skill, what do we get by applying the architectural approach?  We know what it means to be a business person.  What does it mean to be a business architect?

Operating as a business architect requires rigorous engineering skills, an understanding of patterns, and the ability to convey complex ideas through images.  He or she must use a rigorous methodology and clear visual language for creating rich diagrams that depict the business from different perspectives.  To build out the science, we need to create a comprehensive set of cost, flexibility, durability, and agility methods associated with producing viable designs.  Using visual models, business architects can review each other’s efforts, evaluate compliance, test for quality, and to produce detailed design that form the basis of activities.

In effect, if the impact of Business Architecture is to be fully realized, I believe that Business Architecture should become a rigorous and well defined science that is taught to people in Business Schools around the world.  Every MBA would be exposed to business architecture, and some graduates would focus on the profession.

I’m interested in seeing the development of an MBA program in Business Architecture.

Does such a thing already exist?  If you know, please share…

MBA in Business Architecture

By Nick Malik

Former CIO and present Strategic Architect, Nick Malik is a Seattle based business and technology advisor with over 30 years of professional experience in management, systems, and technology. He is the co-author of the influential paper "Perspectives on Enterprise Architecture" with Dr. Brian Cameron that effectively defined modern Enterprise Architecture practices, and he is frequent speaker at public gatherings on Enterprise Architecture and related topics. He coauthored a book on Visual Storytelling with Martin Sykes and Mark West titled "Stories That Move Mountains".

14 thoughts on “Is it time to create an MBA in Business Architecture?”
  1. RMIT University in Australia offers a MTech in Enterprise Architecture. You might want to look at that. Here is the link.

    Obviously, this is is technology focused, whereas what you are suggesting is more business oriented. But it is a good place to start.


  2. The problem is that business do not need business competence, businessmen hold them already.

    IRL there is much more simplier for a business person to obtain some IT kung-fu than for an IT person to obtain business experience that is more about practice than theoretical knowledge (well, at least comparing to engineering).

  3. Hi Yurri,

    Are you saying that any IT person can learn enough about a business to "construct one from parts" and that a business person would let them?  

    Or are you saying that there is no role for a person, regardless of education or experience, to consider the structural elements of a business and be able to reshape and rearchitect it to meet new strategic demands?

    If there is a role, and if the business is not able or ready to let an IT person perform the role, where would you find such a person and what would you call them?

    I’d call them a business architect.

    — N

  4. With respect to the question:  "Should it be an IT person… or should it be a business person?"

    In general I agree with your point that "I don’t believe that IT people do a good job, at all, of describing the architecture of a business"…

    But I would qualify that with "the average IT people".

    Your points about architecture, and engineering skills are KEY!

    I have worked with a lot of management consultant types… a lot of MBAs, and hot shot business school bachelors… They are typically lacking in their ability to see how the pieces, and players fit together UNLESS they came from an engineering background (which pretty much rules out the hot shot business school bachelors).

    The skills, discipline, and thought processes you pick up in an Engineering program prepare you to analyze and understand business structures and actors and how they relate and are organized into sub business systems.

    This gives MBAs who did their undergrad in Engineering or Computer Science a leg up.

    The MBA in Business architecture might help "bring up" the skills of the business bachelor, but I am skeptical unless it was a program jointly run by an engineering and business college.

    That being said, I have a technical masters in Computer Science, but a lot of hands on business and consulting experience.  It would not be out of the ordinary for someone with my background to go back for an MBA , and this is the type of focus I would want out of an MBA.

    I think the best business architects would be people within or in service to a business function, with a solid business background, but they MUST have a solid background in engineering/architecture so they might “come from” IT.  I think if they continue to report or serve under IT, they could easily loose the perspective necessary for such a role.

  5. Hi Jason,

    I completely agree.  The best way for a person to play to role of Business Architect today is for someone with a strong engineering background to move into a business role and grow their skills in business for a few years.

    — Nick

  6. Thanks Nick,

    I unfortunately had a similar conversation over dinner a four years ago with a Senior Manager and Partner from the "Big" consulting firm I worked for and Lost.

    However, I think the evidence in the market as well as my own personal experience over that time period make me more confident in my convictions.

    Please keep us posted if you uncover any more serious evidence from academia or industry!



  7. Great article and excellent comments. I agree that most people possessing the skills to transcribe anything business into what could become a blueprint for architecture need an engineering background.

    In Sweden there is a 12 day course on the topic of business architecture. It’s kind of a mini MBA where they have a strong focus on tying the principle ideas of business and service orientation together. So far they have trained some 200 people and it is really taking on in the business community.

  8. Enterprise Architecture is emerging as an important topic in some MBA courses and textbooks.  In fact, I found this blog while doing EA research related to one of my courses towards an MBA in IT Management through the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater.

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