How we bring structure to the IT landscape

Marja Klijn in front of the office
Marja Klijn voor kantoor
Marja Klijn
Business Architect
Reading time4 minutes

From strategy to implementation: that’s the task of a Business Architect. Marja Klijn prefers to work on that task with a whiteboard close at hand. “You need pictures to explain certain concepts and bring people into your story. But I’m not an artist. Circles and triangles are often enough for me.”

Not everyone is familiar with the role of Business Architect, Marja says. “For people who really can’t imagine the profession, I conveniently compare it to a landscape architect. My landscape is a complex organization. And it’s not about buildings, roads and parks, but about structures, IT systems and services. Those are all connected too, and we have to organize everything well.”

Balance between the bigger picture and detail

When she wants to explain something, Marja looks for an appropriate image. Like Rabobank’s organizational structure, which she illustrates using triangles. “In a management triangle there is a business manager, an architect and an IT lead. The business manager specifies the requirements, and as an architect you figure out how best to fulfill them. The IT lead looks for the right people with whom to accomplish the workload and at what cost. These three continuously challenge each other in order to achieve the best results together. Can it be even simpler, more effective?”

Marja and collega in the office garden

“Suppose the business wants to add an IT service. We then discuss exactly what needs to be done and what the impact will be on our information flows. How do we tackle it, which people do we need for this? To determine the best direction, I need to know the underlying reason. Sometimes in a conversation I’ll ask ‘why?’ five times.”

“A management triangle like that exists at different levels. It starts with the overarching tribes, then areas and then squads. More and more we zoom in a little further and specific details become more important. As an architect, you need to know the nitty-gritty, but you also need to maintain a helicopter view. That balance is very important.”

"When I need to think something through, I prefer to sit with colleagues in a room surrounded by whiteboards." 
Marja Klijn

Business Architect visualizes the dot on the horizon

What skills are indispensable as a Business Architect? Marja: “Analytical ability and good communication skills. Analytical skills to think conceptually and strike a balance between details and the bigger picture. Communication skills to take all parties along in the right direction. We usually start with a PSA: project starting architecture. In this document, we highlight the impact of a new decision on our application landscape from different angles.”

“While a PSA is the guide for elaborating the architecture, it above all helps people get onboard in an accessible way. Not everyone knows their way around the application landscape, so a clear explanation is essential. Visualizing it in an architectural drawing helps. The same goes for myself, by the way. When I need to think something through, I prefer to sit in a room with colleagues surrounded by whiteboards. Drawing, thinking aloud and constructing solutions together. Those are the most fun meetings.”

Marja in front of whiteboard

“My challenge is setting the dot on the horizon and figuring out how we’re going to get there in the foreseeable future,” Marja says. “All while meeting the needs and requirements of the business in an efficient and cost-effective manner. I’m results-oriented: if there’s a deadline, we roll up our sleeves and set to work. That fit with the Simplify@Scale way of working that we have at the bank. Because we work in sprints, you always have a clear goal in mind.”

No hairball

When asked what would go wrong if there were no Business Architects, Marja responds firmly. “Architecture contributes to a structured IT landscape. Do you know what a hairball is? The mess that comes from constantly adding something to a system without looking at the bigger picture. The architect takes a step back and looks at the context. This is how we ensure that the system remains agile. If you keep tying everything together, it all unravels so much faster when something changes.”

"Rabobank gave me the space to search for the next step in my career." 
Marja Klijn

Finding the right place

“I work as a Tribe Architect for the Credit Core Tribe, where we deal with all the policies regarding the risks we face within the bank when we finance a client, for example. Within the Tribe, I additionally fulfill a role as Area Architect for the Earth area. The combination of the more managing role of Tribe Architect and a more substantive role as Area Architect makes it challenging for me.”

“After my previous position as a Business Architect, I was looking for something new. I wanted to do more with my personal interests in agriculture, nature and climate; I grew up as a horticulturist’s daughter and studied at the agricultural university. I wanted to explore whether I could do more with my background. Rabobank gave me the space to figure it out. During a sabbatical, I started talking to people inside and outside the bank. This is how I found out that I didn’t want to completely change course, but could instead apply my accumulated knowledge as a Business Architect to the topics that interested me. In a large organization like this, it’s just a matter of finding the right place.”

“The fact that I was given the space for this search makes Rabobank a great employer for me. I feel very comfortable here. It’s the combination of my position and working with people who are open and approachable. It’s just nice working together; I never felt like I had been thrown into the deep end. Everyone is willing to help you get started, which is the reason why we do things together. That’s what makes me thrive here.”

Business Architecture at Rabobank