The latest trend in architecture doesn't have anything to do with drawing skyscrapers -- although it may help some businesses fill them. Instead, a new breed of architects is using a diverse toolbox of resources to build businesses that are flexible, adaptable and profitable. Known as business architects, these professionals are quickly becoming the go-to people for corporations hoping to reach the next level of success.
The basics of business architecture
Although these professionals aren't designing blueprints with pencil and paper, it is not a stretch to see how the work of business architects is similar to that of traditional architects.
"Business architects design businesses in the same way building architects design buildings," said Paul Arthur Bodine, a certified business architect who is considered one of the leading authorities in this emerging field.
Bodine created the business architecture educational program within the Kellstadt Graduate School of Business at DePaul University and co-founded the Business Architects Association. He says business architects are forward-thinking professionals valued for their ability to create a strong foundation that can help ensure the success of large-scale initiatives.
"Companies need business architects to envision the future nature of the organization and identify the building blocks necessary to achieve that vision," Bodine said.
That means business architects must have a firm understanding of a variety of business specialties, including marketing, operations and logistics. The Business Architects Association says these professionals typically use tools in all the following categories in the course of their work:
- Information repositories and databases
However, technology plays a starring role in many business architecture jobs. So much so that InfoWorld named business architects as the number one hottest job in IT last year and dubbed it "MBA with an IT focus."
Where business architects work
Business architects often work as management consultants who are brought in to advise companies on business strategy and operations. However, some companies also maintain an internal business architecture team or hire on business architects to work with a specific department.
"IT departments, especially in the insurance industry, are hiring business architects onto their enterprise architecture teams to primarily function as analysts," said Bodine. "They meet with the other departments of the business, listen to their needs, analyze how they do their work and identify the role IT can play in enabling solutions for these needs."
While a business start-up may seem like the most logical place to find business architects, Bodine says these professionals offer a valuable service to mature organizations as well. As market conditions and consumer tastes change, corporations may find they need to restructure or shift their focus in order to remain profitable. Business architects may be called in to help coordinate these initiatives and ensure a smooth transition.
Riding the MBA wave
In addition to being a hot job in its own right, business architects may benefit from an overall boost in hiring being reported for MBA graduates. According to data from the Graduate Management Admission Council, students in MBA programs are reporting more job offers than a year ago.
GMAC found 62 percent of those graduating from MBA and management education programs had received a job offer in 2012. In 2011, that number was only 54 percent. In addition, 79 percent of companies surveyed say they plan to hire recent MBA grads this year, up from 72 percent last year.
However, employers aren't looking for just any MBA student. Instead, they are seeking out those who have high-level reasoning skills and the ability to condense information from multiple sources while formulating solutions to complex problems. In short, they want those with the skills of business architects.
"As companies begin to act on plans to expand, they are hiring talent to help manage strategy and growth to sustain the business for the long term," said Dave Wilson, president and CEO of GMAC, in a statement announcing the council's findings.
Getting the right education
Since business architects are required to coordinate multiple business functions, gaining exposure to many different departments can be vital.
"An MBA or equivalent is critical," said Bodine, "as well as cross-organizational experience working in a variety of roles and departments."
While some schools, such as DePaul University, offer courses in business architecture, there are currently no MBA or graduate programs devoted solely to this specialty. However, Bodine expects business architecture MBA programs will be coming soon.
In the meantime, students should select a broad range of classes that give them access, experience and knowledge in numerous facets of business operations.
"Become a student of strategy and business models," said Bodine. "Accept roles that will broaden your experience. Combine entrepreneurial visioning with hard quantitative analysis."
With technology playing an integral role in business operations, any student interested in working as a business architect should be comfortable with a number of IT platforms. Bodine also notes that sustainability issues are of increasing importance to businesses. Those studying for a career in business architecture would be wise to take classes that can help them understand green business practices.
Is business architecture right for you?
Working as a business architect is not for everyone. The Business Architects Association recommends the career for those with the ability to visualize an end product or solution and then work backward to identify the necessary steps to reach that goal.
Since business architects generally work with complex problems involving multiple departments and numerous personnel, they must be able to communicate effectively with a variety of personalities. Finally, a good business architect is one that can start with a skyscraper view of the business landscape and then take a laser focus down to the smallest detail.
According to Bodine, many of the greatest entrepreneurs -- Steve Jobs and Henry Ford to name two -- were business architects, although they may not have carried the title. If you think you have what it takes to help create business success from the ground-up, a career as a business architect can be both rewarding and challenging.