>Optimizing IT and Enterprise Architecture

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Enterprise Architecture helps to align business strategy and IT implementation. However, one of the big problems for IT these days is that it is viewed as a utility and not as a strategic business partner.

The Wall Street Journal, 10 March 2008, reports that “Too often, there’s a wall between a company’s information technology department and everything else. That wall has to go.”

What’s the problem with how executives view IT?

“Simply put, top executives at most companies fail to recognize the value of IT. It can help a company transform data from its operations, its business partners, and its markets into useful competitive information, It can be the source of profitable innovations in the way a company interacts with its customers and suppliers. But there is still a tendency to think of IT as a basic utility, like plumbing or telephone service.”

IT doesn’t even have a seat at the table!

There is a “metaphysical glass wall that separates the IT group from the rest of the business at most companies. The wall prevents IT from being part of the discussion at the highest levels of company planning, robbing a firm of its full potential.”

Even in the federal government where there is legislation (The Clinger-Cohen Act) to support a CIO reporting directly to the agency head, often the CIO remains buried layers down in the hierarchy.

How can the CIO develop a viable enterprise architecture to support the business with needed technology if IT is viewed as computer geeks and walled off?

IT must become a true partner with the business!

Why is IT walled off and how can this change?

Obstacles:

  • Mind-set—Business is focused on business problems and IT is focused on the technology (instead of focusing on solving the business problems).
  • Language barriers—“much is lost in translation” between IT and business folks.
  • Outsourcing—“IT professionals are almost pitied as dinosaurs whose jobs will soon be sent offshore.”
  • IT governance—isn’t done collaboratively with the business and “the resulting IT failures drive a wedge between senior [business] managers and their IT colleagues.”
  • Rapid pace of technological change—technology “is subject to fads,” which can be confusing in terms of direction, create competitive demands on scarce business resources, and causes IT to lose credibility with each and every subsequent change. Also, IT can be viewed as an endless sinkhole for investment and so the focus becomes not on optimizing value from IT, but rather on containing runaway cost.

Opportunities:

  • Executive commitment—to understand the strategic value of IT and develop effective IT management.
  • Strategic IT leadership—hire an IT leader who understands more than just technology; s/he needs to really understand the business and how IT can enable it.
  • Value IT for its business potential—“managers at all levels across the organization need to be convinced that innovations in IT-related areas such as knowledge management, business intelligence, information security, change management, and process integration are essential to the success of the enterprise.”
  • Translate business to IT and back again—“a company must have people at all levels who can translate IT language for those outside that department and translate the language of management to those in IT.”
  • Sound IT governance—“ensure that every part of the organization that is affected by IT decisions is part of the decision making process…with a full understanding of all their implications.”
  • IT portfolio management—“analyze the costs, benefits and risks of all IT projects to determine how to get the most benefits from the dollars invested in technology.”

Interestingly enough, enterprise architecture plays a key role in almost all the strategies to get IT to become an integral partner with the business:

  • EA helps build executive commitment through effectively communicating the current, target, and transition plan and how it aligns to the business strategy and benefits the mission.
  • The chief enterprise architect is a strategic, big picture, IT leader that focuses on business needs and how IT can solve those with current and emerging technologies as well as process improvement.
  • User-centric EA develops information products for the organization that are useful and usable and support knowledge management, business intelligence, requirements management, change management, and so on.
  • EA synthesizes business and technology information and is a bridge between the two for the organization to understand performance results desired, business processes to produce those, information required by the business processes, and systems and technologies to serve those up.
  • The EA Board supporting the IT Investment Review Board implements sounds IT governance and brings business and technology subject matter experts to the table to vet decisions in the best overall interest of the enterprise.
  • The EA governance process takes into account ROI, risk, strategic alignment, and technical compliance to drive better decision making and sound IT investments for the organization.

EA is central to bringing down the glass wall between business and IT and in bringing the two together to optimize IT solutions for the business needs.