Business architecture: Is it happening in the right place?

In the digital age, we think that architecture matters even more for the long-term success of organizations. However, when we hear about architecting, it’s often related to IT. The term isn’t very common on the non-IT side of the business, yet architecture impacts the entire company.

At MIT CISR, we’ve launched a research project, “Making Architecture Matter Beyond IT,” to address questions like how architecture can have a broader impact; how non-IT executives embrace architecture; and how architecture principles have been adopted and sustained, and if they actually make a difference.

Clearly, business architecture is becoming a more established function. In a 2011 MIT CISR survey, almost half of the 146 responding firms had a business architecture function. And if you type in “business architecture” as a search term at the job-search site, you’ll find around 1,000 postings. That’s a lot. (But it’s still little compared to the 50,000+ postings you’ll find if you search for “project management.”)

Despite its gaining prominence, is business architecture growing in the right place? To kick off our research project, we conducted a quick online poll in which we asked participants where their business architects are located (if they have any) in the organization. About 60% of the 118 respondents said their business architects are within IT. That compares to about 50% in our 2011 survey. In companies where those roles are outside of the IT unit, most are distributed among different business units rather than at a corporate level.

It’s probably natural for this role to organically grow in the IT department, but shouldn’t senior leaders be thinking beyond organizational structure? Shouldn’t they be mapping out how all components of the business—including digitized capabilities—work together to help achieve the company’s purpose?

We’d like to hear how you are implementing high-level architecture. How are you engaging non-IT leaders (or senior executives)? What are you architecting and what is the impact?

Martin Mocker is a research scientist at the MIT Sloan Center for Information Systems Research (CISR).