What is Business Architecture? An Interview with Pat Ferdinandi

Pat FerdinandiToday we meet with Pat Ferdinandi, Business Architect and Chief Thought Translator founding Strategic Business Decisions, inc . Pat has been a consultant for over half of her 30+ years in business. While working for executives as a Business Architect, Pat has been writing and speaking on human communication skills. Quality of anything begins with first engaging others on a one-to-one basis. She has two blogs that bridge the communication between business and technologists.

Pat and I have shared ideas and conversed about consulting in the domain of solving business problems since earlier this year. She is forward-thinking and understands not just how to do great business architecture and analysis but how to market these services in ways that clients can understand. I’m excited to bring her perspective to you today.

On BA Titles

Question: You call yourself a “Chief Thought Translator”. Can you tell us what you mean by that? How did you come up with that title?

Answer:   Business Architect is meaningless to executives. If I tell him or her that I translate his or her thoughts into something that can be acted upon…it has real meaning.  It explains in term of him or her and not buzz words (in terms of me). It is my Purple Cow backed up by testimonials of those I’ve helped.

Business Architect vs. Business Analyst

Question: You recently tweeted that Business Architecture is NOT Business Analysis? Can you explain what you mean and what the difference is?

Answer:  Over the years I’ve seen many definitions of both Business Architecture (and the role of architect) and Business Analysis (and the role of analyst). I’ve seen wars break out on discussion boards, blogs, and tweets between different people because each one is convinced that his or her particular definition is the “right” definition. So, before I answer this question, be prepared for many responses of a variety of points of “right” views. My Tweet was just a quick snapshot of my perspective as a consultant who helps clients by doing many BizArch-type activities.

Business Analysts tend to be deployed on specific projects  (think of building a single home or building) . The project could be a mission critical project that will dramatically affect the bottom line…but it is still a project. Business Analysts tend to concentrate on process and work in partnership with a data analyst. I’ve been on a soap box about the eight different type of requirements for decades (check out Pat’s book: Requirements Pattern) yet I still see many business analysts concentrate on only a subset of what needs to be captured leading to missed requirements.

Business Architecture is at a higher level than a project  (think in terms of planning a city) . It is at a strategic level that usually initiates many projects. The activities performed under Business Architecture include development or tweaking of the business, strategic and operational plans of the business. Business Architecture is one of many segments (or subs) of an Enterprise Architecture (Organizational, Social, Technical, etc). Business Architecture takes into account a view of the industry and the current (and future) environment and climate (think of the current transformation of the health care industry).  Business Architecture is never done. It is a continual evolution that involves the executives to think of multiple alternatives and where the business needs to be five to ten years from now. It is not IT Centric. I’m biased and believe that the Business Architecture is the heart of the Enterprise Architecture.

Question: Can Business Analysts perform Business Architecture activities?

Answer: The senior Business Analyst can IF he or she:

  • Understands how Business Architecture fits within the Enterprise Architecture and collaborates with all the other sub-architectures.
  • Understands what information needs to be captured and organized it to provide the best information for the board members to make decisions.
  • Feels comfortable talking with board members to build consensus.
  • Obtains trust quickly.
  • Has unbreakable positive attitude.
  • Is open minded to what can be done.
  • Can challenge thinking by being the unicorn in a balloon factory (and not fear being shot).
  • Can be a searcher and not a should-er.
  • Can be a leader and not fall prey to being a manager.

On Communication

Question: What approaches have you found most effective in communicating?

Answer:   For either Business Analysis (BA) or Business Architecture (BizArch): Being friendly. Being humble. Being curious. Being approachable. I know what needs to be captured. I have learned many different approaches to capturing information for building or tweaking architectures and product solutions. I have learned and use several different notations, processes and methods. I choose which one will convey the information and understanding the best for the business and technical side. After all, that is what is important…to capture what is needed and obtain confirmation by both communities that what is documented is understood and can be acted upon.

On Consulting as a Business Architect

Question: How do you ensure your services stand out from those of other consultants?

Answer: My clients will say that I stand out by:

  • Inspiring others to work towards a vision she can see of the future for them. Possibilities that he or she may not have seen as possible before.
  • Turning executives’ thoughts into action by building blueprints others can easily implement.
  • Being endlessly curious to learn more.
  • Taking personal ownership of achieving the best at whatever the task. Focusing on providing real tangible value that lasts long after her assignment ends.
  • Supplying contagious enthusiasm in her realistic, down-to-earth style!

Building Trust with the Business Community

Question: Anything else you’d like to share today?

Answer:   I hope people recognize that the secret to success is building a trusting relationship with the business community. That begins with a positive attitude and understanding that there is always more to learn. How are his or her Engaging Skills?

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  1. Sharp boundaries do not exist. The same person can wear many different hats and play many different roles. The tasks may use a similar approach. Are they different? Yes.

    The biggest distinction is BizArch deals with the entire enterprise. Where does the business want to be 5, 10, 15 years from now? Should the enterprise change its brand, if so, what is the impact? What are the new government laws going to do to our business? Where are the potential new-thinking competitors coming from outside the industry?

    The next step is to coordinate the analysis with other sub-architectures. Do we need to restructure the organization? What is the social impact of these changes? Can technology help us achieve our objectives? When will the payback be to become profitable? Who do we need to hire?

    These changes MAY involve changing the technical architecture or spawn specific IT projects. It may result in just updating business policies and procedures (or at least documenting what hasn’t been documented).

    Sr. BAs can facilitate such projects. BAs tend to focus on a specific project (and yes, the next evolutionary step for the project). It is usually not as broadly focused.

    • Hi Pat and Kevin,

      Thank you both for your comments. I must admit I am on the fence on this one. I definitely see the difference in perspectives that Pat describes but I also see Kevin’s point that business analysis can lead to business architecture. I think part of what makes this a difficult problem to discuss is that there is a lack of real-world examples to call from. Most of the business analysts I know are simply not doing business architecture. Some are fulfilling aspects of this role, but on a very small scale or in a limited capacity. So those that do “move up” into business architecture tend to be the exception rather than the rule. And, beyond this, many people who are doing what we might call business architecture moved into that role from other disciplines such as project management, enterprise architecture, or aspects of the business such as marketing or operations.

      It feels to me in this discussion of where the business will be in 5, 10, 15 years we are beyond most business analyst roles and into roles that are typically thought of as part of the CEO, CIO, CMO, or COO responsibility. In your experience, is it individuals at that level of the organization who are driving the business architecture (whether or not they call it that)?

  2. I agree with all of her points about the relationship of business analysis to business architecture, but disagree with her conclusion.

    The big reason I disagree is that I don’t think the lines she draws are sharp boundaries. What I found in my BA career is that as I moved to a more senior role on each project, I spent more and more time on the activities she describes as “business architecture” in addition to dealing with the topics she defines as “business analysis”. If you are doing iterative or agile development, you end up doing a lot of thinking ahead, planning for the future, and you don’t have an end state you can think of as “done”.

    So, are they identical? No. But are they different enough to be regarded as two distinct disciplines? Is the knowledge required for one distinctly different from the knowledge required for the other? Are they distinct in the way business analysis and project management are? I’d also have to say no.



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