BA Makers: Heroes of your Digital Transformation

In this post, I explain why the paradigm shift of low-code app development means BA takes center stage in Digital Transformation. I develop how Business Analysts and Business Architects are at the right place at the right time to solve the Innovation Equation through the BA Makers Movement.

Photo by Henry Be on Unsplash

“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, concerned citizens can change the world. Indeed it is the only thing that ever has.”

Margaret Mead (cultural anthropologist, 1901 – 1978)

I take every opportunity to listen to what people say and write about Digital Transformation: how they go about driving innovation, how they deal with the ever-shifting goalposts, how they break the invisible cultural barriers… With more or less verve, digital pundits enthusiastically advocate the virtues of embracing change, often with a commentary on the way Amazon institutionalized 2-pizza teams, Netflix implemented DevOps, Ocado used cutting-edge technology and automation to transform the online grocery space…

But rarely understood or recognized is the essential role played by Business Analysts and Business Architects, which I’ll collectively refer to as BAs, as I explain further below. In my experience, BAs are the unsung heroes of Digital Transformation. BAs are the change agents who connect, clarify, visualize, storify, orchestrate and transform. To reach their potential as a community, BAs must come together as a movement – the BA Makers.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s take a step back and consider two quotes illustrating the paradigm shift happening right now and how it impacts BAs’ ability to drive Digital Transformation:

  • “The future of coding is no coding at all” (GitHub CEO), which opens the possibility to develop business applications without the need for an army of developers and drawn-out idea-to-production cycles.
  • “The biggest part of our digital transformation is changing the way we think.” (Bupa CEO), which calls for an ability to drive the human side of digital transformation, for example through Design Thinking techniques.

These two shifts are hardly novel, but their vitality and momentum are. BAs stand at the crossroads between both, and the opportunity to improve old ways is astronomical. Up until recently, the BA discipline was scattered and BAs operated mostly in isolation from one another, missing the opportunity to share best practices and learn from each other. But BA Makers are driving a groundswell renewal, equipped with modern skills and tools to drive innovation with speed, impact, and scale. “Speed” because, with Design Thinking for example, BAs deliver value iteratively, and the business sees results after just a few days. “Impact” because BAs drive strategic relevance with top executives and engage business leaders on their terms. And “scale”, because BAs empower the 3.5% change agents and orchestrate a rich ecosystem of partners to deliver the targeted business outcomes, at exponential rate.

“Movements engaging a threshold of 3.5% of the population have never failed to bring about change”

Erica Chenoweth Professor of Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School

And what about low-code development? BAs can focus their efforts on developing differentiating logic and flows for the business – and let the technology do its work: secure, scalable, and unnoticed. This is huge – let’s dig deeper.

Low-code/no-code means BA takes center stage

The technology stack is collapsing at a speed many of us are only starting to realize. By 2024, Gartner claims that two thirds of all business applications will be developed without code. Two thirds! By 2024!

This is a good thing: machine is finally speaking human language, not the opposite. Low-code platforms bring developers and business users together on a rapid, iterative, and collaborative co-creation process. In the next decade, low-/no-code development will gradually meet the exponentially increasing need for new business applications.

Low-code Application Development will solve much of new business app needs in the next 10 years (Credits: BAMakers.org)

When done right, low-code development harbors the following benefits:

  1. Rapid prototyping. Using low-code, BAs can orchestrate the creation of minimum viable products in weeks or even days, not months or even years.
  2. Built-in security. Policies are baked into the platform, and the CISO is reassured that security is included by design, not as an after-thought. This means less risk for the business, and no last-minute patching scramble to give code the appearance of being compliant.
  3. Standardization. Data integration and cross-system support are built-in as part of the platform and everyone can access data sources through documented APIs.
  4. Business ownership. Business leaders are active drivers of the development process: they see and shape the application all along its development, and low-code developers can rapidly course correct any misinterpretation.
  5. Talent resourcing. With low-code, organization have access to a much larger pool of developers – and if needed, they can even train willing employees to become citizen developers themselves. This means they are no longer restricted to the traditional, and relatively small, population of professional coders.
  6. DevOps realized. Developers like to code and release new features. They typically don’t like running what they coded, because it requires a different mindset focused on 24/7 availability. But with low-code platforms, running the code only take a fraction of their time, and in many cases, it can be done as a part-time job between by one or two people.
  7. Incremental updates. With low-code platforms, Continuous Integration/Continuous Deployment (CI/CD) becomes simpler because the code to deploy is simpler to understand. And if there is any unexpected behavior, the platform allows you to roll back the changes with a few clicks.
  8. Project success. When business, security, IT and developers co-create an application together through successive iterations from idea to production, projects are done faster, at a fraction of the cost, and with a significantly lower risk of failure.
  9. Full infrastructure abstraction. Today, many IT departments spend 80% of their resources just to keep the light on. Someone in the organization must understand all the intricacies of compute, storage, networking, and fix things in case anything goes wrong. With low-code, those days are counted: infrastructure will at last truly be the 4th utility.

Ultimately, low-code won’t replace 100% of traditional programming, but it will free up resources and allow businesses to devote more time to core competencies and advanced processes. With low-code, lines of business can invest 80% of the time in understanding and shaping the requirements, and 20% to code the application. Enterprises can focus their efforts on what really matters for the business, for employees, for customers. Waste is removed, and cycles are shortened. More resources are devoted to making the world a better place. And that’s why low-code is a good thing.

BA Makers have a central role to play in the low-code/no-code paradigm shift:

  • Northbound: BA Makers engage with company executives and business leaders and drive holistic discussions on the changes required from People, Process, Data, Technology, Things and Places.
  • Southbound: BA Makers engage with low-code developers and can dramatically accelerate innovation by actively piloting them to try/test/deploy in a way that was unimaginable just a few years ago. BA Makers continuously bridge the business intent with what developers are coding, ensuring that we never wander off to far from optimal value.
BA Makers have a central role to play in the low-code/no-code paradigm shift
(Credits: BAMakers.org)

This calls for a deep rethink of the roles & responsibilities of Business Analysts and Business Architects. For a start, the current dichotomy between both doesn’t make sense anymore: BAs and BAs must merge as one community, as one movement. Let’s explore.

BA is dead, long live BA Makers

Quick take on Business Analysts

Simply put, a Business Analyst takes requirements from leaders and/or users, defines and designs the solution that will deliver the expected outcomes, creates the specifications that programmers can code and IT can run, and regularly reports insightful metrics back to the business.

Whether she operates using a waterfall approach, or as a Scrum product owner, the day-in-a-life of a traditional Business Analyst typically includes the following activities:

  • Understand the needs of the business and current gaps
  • Document every requirement in a set of formats that can be shared with and understood by all key stakeholders
  • Create a set of specifications detailing the product/feature to be built
  • Continuously monitor that the developed product/feature does answer to the real business requirements, effectively acting as a product manager
  • Ensure the timely delivery of the product/feature (although this task is usually led by a Project Manager)
  • Analyze the data and bring insights back to the business

As such, Business Analysts are often seen as translators between business and technology, focused on understanding the complexities on both sides and developing a shared understanding on what needs to be done now. All great and very much needed by any modern enterprise.

Quick take on Business Analysts

In contrast, Business Architects are focused on driving transformation in the organization, looking at the future and helping business leaders reimagine how things could be improved, typically hinging on one or more technology paradigm shifts (cloud, mobility, big data, IoT, etc.).

On a typical day, a Business Architect might successively play the role of:

  • a trusted advisor, analyzing the key industry challenges/opportunities, forming deep relationships at leadership level, and co-creating the digital transformation journey.
  • a business innovator, maintaining a comprehensive understanding to the technology trends and identifying the solutions most relevant to the business transformation.
  • an ecosystem orchestrator, pulling together the appropriate resources (internal and external) required to conceive, implement and run successful business-led technology solutions.

As such, Business Architects are often seen as the digital strategists, helping leaders plan the future of the organization in a Never Normal world.

At long last, the BA Makers

As the reader will have undoubtedly picked up, in today’s world, a strict dichotomy between BA and BA doesn’t make sense anymore: Business Analysts do Business Architecture, and Business Architects do Business Analysis. Hence why I just refer to them as BAs.

But BA or BA, things need to change – and they are. In the past, BAs have been working in isolation. Brilliant minds scattered around the globe, using a wide variation of tools/methodologies/framework, all the while aiming to achieve the same thing: solve problems by connecting business needs to technology solutions. To increase our impact, to build on the shoulders of our giant peers, to accelerate our impact, BAs must come together as one. Enter the BA Makers.

BA Makers are building on the philosophy and culture of the worldwide “Maker Movement”.

And as recommended by Mark Hatch in his “Maker Movement Manifesto” book, we first ought to adapt the generic Maker manifesto to fit our needs as a BA Community. This is something I’ll focus on in a future post, but for now, let’s quickly review the 8 points Mark covers, and briefly describe how they might apply to BA:

  1. Make. First and foremost, BA Makers are driven by an urge to drop the theoretical frameworks, skip the stale status meetings, and focus all their time and energy on building real solutions that work for the business and for users.
  2. Share. Making is not enough. To succeed as a community, BA Makers share their best practices and proudly promote their successes. There’s a place and time for humility – but that’s not here and now.
  3. Participate. BA Makers reach out to the outer world. They are constantly on the look-out and never hesitate to make their voices heard.
  4. Give. BA Makers don’t just brag about what they do. They make their templates and methods available, so other BA Makers can benefit, learn – and improve. The biggest accolade is to see a peer re-using and augmenting one’s approach – as long of course, as the original creator is duly recognized: nothing hurts innovation as much as plagiarism.
  5. Support. Making BA can be somewhat of a steep learning curve, requiring new skills and getting out of one’s comfort zone. Veterans help their peers to get there, for example by driving a Design Thinking workshop and showing how things can be done.
  6. Learn. Gaining knowledge and know-how is a never-ending process, which can be done through formal education/certification, but also through informal, day-by-day internet article browsing. The most effective way to learn though is arguably to replicate best practices from fellow BA Makers and try them from yourself: fail or succeed, you’ll gain the know-how in a way you won’t forget.
  7. Tool up. In practice, specific software is often required to make BA. For example, Adobe InDesign to create a visual storyboard. Or Miro to facilitate a remote workshop using the digital whiteboard. If possible, we always try to leverage tools that already sit on everyone’s laptop (yes, PowerPoint, that’s you).
  8. Embrace Change. At the end, BA Makers are about a mindset: the world is still on day-1 of digital transformation and BA Makers need to proceed quickly before it implodes. That’s why every day, we make, share, participate, give, support, learn and tool up.

The Innovation Equation

Over the last 20 years, I have been fortunate to collaborate with customers in practically every industry, from government to retail, from energy to transportation, from manufacturing to healthcare. Each time, I’ve learned from the people I worked with or talked to how they go about solving complex problems; how they orchestrate complex ecosystems of partners; how they pull together the different parts of a puzzle and form solutions that others could operate sustainably; how different organizations and structures work (or not); how culture does eat strategy for breakfast; how innovation nearly always comes from the unexpected edge; how empowering the 3.5% change agents can transform a company; etc.

Here are of few of my colleagues at Cisco from whom I learned so much and am still learning every day:

The most interesting part of our job as BAs is to bridge the gap between business and technology. When we connect both worlds, magical things happen. Every time.

But here’s the cornerstone of any BA-led engagement: never pretend you know better than the person in front of you. If you talk to a retailer — even if you spent the last year analyzing industry reports – know that they know their business better than anyone. Same for government, healthcare, or finance. Of course, you need to do your homework: you need to read those reports and understand the latest trends: who are the key incumbents and new market entrants, where is the industry going, what are the major paradigm shifts, etc. But once this is all in your head, remember this simple equation:

The Innovation Equation
(credits: BAMakers.org)

Warren Buffet has a famous aversion against consulting firms. Why? Because everyone must play their position, and if the business isn’t going in the right direction, the solution is not to hire an external consultant to tell the employees what they should do. Instead, it’s all about balancing the Innovation Equation.

To do this, BA Makers are continuously evolving our skills, our methods, and our tools. We’ve mastered the art of collecting pearls of information in rounds of 1:1 interviews. We’ve fine-tuned our ability to co-create the perfect story that will bring all stakeholders on board. We’ve embraced the news ways of facilitating workshops (including remotely), using the power of Design Thinking to get everyone engaged. We’ve learned to quickly get up to speed in a new industry, so we can have informed discussion with business leaders. I’ll get into the details of all this in future posts, so stay tuned for more.

To balance the Innovation Equation, BA Makers are continuously evolving our skills, our methods, and our tools

The 4 C’s of BA Makers

If you are a BA, either Business Analyst or Business Architect, congratulations: you are in the right place at the right time. And if you are considering a career switch to BA, I hope my post convinced you of the tremendous opportunities lying ahead. The world needs you!

The BA Maker Movement is picking up pace exponentially, building on a foundation of 4 C’s: Cause, Community, Capabilities, Clients.

BA Makers Movement: Cause, Community, Capabilities, Clients
(Credits: BAMakers.org)

I’ll expand on each ‘C’ in future posts, but for now, let me summarize them as follows:

  • Cause: BA Makers change the world and make our future a great place to live, work, play, and learn. To impact the toughest challenges facing our societies, we are joining forces as a united Community. To scale up innovation, we continuously evolve and share our BA Capabilities with our peers. And at the end, it comes down to accelerating our Clients’ digital transformation.
  • Community: BA Makers share the value they created, so that we can all learn and emulate. We continuously hone our BA skills, vertical expertise, and practical know-how. We coach, mentor and empower aspiring BA Makers. We work across boundaries, balancing the greater good with the expectations of our own organizations.
  • Capability: As the years progress, we fine-tune our BA Makers’ toolbox, focused on our objective of driving innovation with speed, impact and scale. We welcome emerging methods and integrate existing frameworks into the way we do things. But we are ruthless about keeping the BA Makers’ approach as simple as our goals permit.
  • Clients: Whether acting as external consultants, or operating as change agents within the confines of their own organizations, BA Makers are first and foremost makers: they thrive in action, and develop their skills and know-how on the job. The ultimate prize for any BA Maker is to see a customer delighted by a new service; a legacy process revamped to deliver better outcomes in a fully sustainable way; a large technology investment delivering the outcomes and benefits expected by the line of business.

There is no point exposing the intricacies and subtleties of BA: people have seen enough frameworks, diagrams and reports. Don’t tell them what BA is: bring BA to life with them. My recommendation to any BA Maker, either veteran or aspiring, is to get into action as quickly as possible, and this means to communicate, to visualize, to facilitate, to co-create – to deliver innovation with speed, impact, and scale.

This concludes my 3-part seminal blog on BAMakers.org:

I called this series “Quantum Transformation and The Rise of BA Makers”, and if it sounds a bit like the title of an epic story, it’s because it is. At heart, BA Makers are on a mission to empower enterprises, large and small, public and private, to produce incremental and sustainable value for their customers, for society, for the planet. And we’re just getting started. Want to join the movement?

Author: Patrick Bikar

I head Cisco's Global Business Architecture Center of Excellence with a strategy built on 3 pillars: [1] COMMUNITY: I build the organisational structures and internal/external partnerships for a tribe of 250+ Business Architects, empowering them to continuously hone their BA know-how and vertical expertise. It’s a movement, the BA Makers, skilled and tooled for helping our customer drive business innovation with speed, impact, and scale. More info on: https://bamakers.org/digital-transformation-heroes/ [2] CAPABILITY: I co-created a powerful framework helping our customers deliver on the promise of Digital Transformation. We call it the BA Poppy, and we're now in the process of fully revamping a 4-stage Business Architecture training curriculum around it, so we can scale our approach to the whole of Cisco, our partners, and our customers. More info on: https://bamakers.org/ba-rethought/ [3] CUSTOMERS: Every year, BA Makers support dozens of business-led customer engagements, interacting with CxOs, IT Leaders and business executives. We help them ensure that technology investments deliver the outcomes and benefits expected by users and the business, crystallizing a digital transformation strategy in a way that is holistic, concerted, undetermined. More info on: https://bamakers.org/quantum-transformation

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