IT Management Issue
designing a new information system, assessing the impact of a purchased
package, planning for integration with an application service provider,
performing due diligence for a merger or acquisition, or identifying opportunities
for cost reduction, the question is: "What is the necessary and appropriate
information technology architecture."
The perfect architecture is functional, simple and clearly understood.
It must be functional to serve two constituencies. First, the business
manager's processes will be enabled and optimized through systems built
on its capabilities. Second, information technologists must build in compliance
with architectural guidelines. This balance of operational vision and
constrained realization is the measure of good architecture. Let's step
out of the business world for a minute to get a mental image of functional
and non-functional architecture.
the center of Boston, Massachusetts is a green area called The Boston
Common. It originally was a place where residents of the city grazed cattle
during the day. A legend tells us: At afternoon milking time, the cows
wandered home using whatever path they had become accustomed to. When
it came time to pave streets, the stone and tar was laid down over the
cow droppings so as not to confuse the beasts morning and evening journeys.
The result - virtually no parallel streets, named with no rhyme or reason
and a lot of lost tourists. The architecture of Boston's street plan is
non-functional now that the cows have moved to the suburbs.
Jefferson had a good deal of time to plan Washington D.C. and he put the
time to good use. He designed a Nation's Capital and a City and a Monument.
He created a focal point where the seat of government lay. He placed reminders
(places for monuments) behind the capitol buildings to remind officials
of the route that those before had taken. He left green spaces to suggest
a link to nature and personal time. He radiated avenues out from the focal
point and linked them with streets in concentric arcs. The result is an
appealing, navigable plan that serves multiple purposes. A functional,
simple, and readily understood architecture.
an analogous architecture for the enterprise, information technologists
can not be expected to work efficiently or effectively. Rather, disconnected
application systems, inconsistent data, erratic system performance and
unpredictable project costs should be expected. Architecture establishes
a vital framework for how various information technology products and
systems are put together to create robust infrastructure and application
systems that deliver business value to the enterprise.
major business transformation involving information technology systems
as an enabler or catalyst requires a documented business architecture
for the process and systems. Without such documentation, people will go
to the coffee room, pull another napkin from the holder and design the
enterprise business architecture based on their recollection and educated
guesses about how things should work. If they guess right, good results
are enabled. If they guess wrong, resulting solutions will be of unpredictable
compound the waste, each team working on process improvement or business
transformation will spend time creating a business architecture to support
their project. Various teams are unlikely to guess identically, yet all
of their solutions need to fit together to improve enterprise performance.
Fundamental assumptions about the business should not be left to chance.
a business architecture is not a difficult task. A skilled consultant
or manager can put one together in a matter of days. Bringing consensus
commitment to the validity of the architecture is yet another story. The
old saw: "It is easy to agree on concepts; almost impossible to commit
a group to action" becomes appropriate. When the drawing that shows how
customers interface with the enterprise, marketing connects to engineering,
finance sits between sales and logistics is laid out for all to ratify,
there will inevitably be negative reactions.
issue around consensus may come from errors or incompleteness, which can
be fixed readily. The more difficult issues to resolve are rooted in "What
was" and "What might be." Someone may see something in a configuration
that does not work as well as it once did. The reaction is to return to
the old model. Someone else may see something that could be better and
try to force the change into this agenda. These and other issues often
lead to stalemate, resulting in no agreed upon view within the company.
If this happens, several red flags should be raised. Until everyone can
agree upon how the company works today, they are probably not working
efficiently or effectively together, let alone ready to lead change.
Technology Management Implications
Without a business architecture that is agreed upon and used by executive
and line management, there is an excellent chance that disconnected systems
will both be requested and built, resulting in an excessive and costly
infrastructure that is increasingly resistant to change over time.
initial construction of a business architecture helps to establish the
need for infrastructure and to justify investment in such. It is a powerful
tool that allows information technology managers to get ahead of applications
deployment by helping business management understand why infrastructure
needs to be built before the applications that depend upon it.
the business design is deployed, the value of information technology architecture
design is greatly enhanced. When the two are linked to define the core
processes and how they will be enabled through information technology,
context becomes clear and the most important projects become apparent.
Many napkins will be saved from becoming the temporary documentation of
how the parts of the enterprise come together.
management must describe the overarching framework of the enterprise so
that all parties working towards optimized operations have a good chance
of working in concert without having to be on the same team.
- Take the lead and obtain consensus around an architecture for the
enterprise. The design should address:
- The corporate (structural) strategy: Holding Company, Federated
Companies or Integrated Enterprise.
- Interconnection among functional units.
- Flow of core business process.
- Touch points between functional units and processes with customers
- Supply and delivery chain of raw materials conversion to delivered
- Mission, Vision, Values, Purpose, and Guiding Principles.
- Business performance measures that drive desired behaviors, in
the form of a Balanced Scorecard.
- Establish a Program Office to manage the process of business architecture
design and governance as well to provide coordinated change integration
across the enterprise.
- Insist upon the design of an information technology architecture
and its application across the enterprise.
- Continually review the business architecture (quarterly or even bimonthly)
for completeness and functional fit. Adjust as necessary and communicate
the changes broadly.
Technology Management Response
Technology Management plays an essential role in making the business architecture
real. As such, Information Technologists should use it as a framework
for all designs and activities.
- Use the business architecture to design information technology architecture.
- Use the business architecture to relate every information systems
project to the improvement of core business process and / or functional
unit performance improvement.
- Look out beyond the current information systems agenda of projects
to identify potential technologies and partners.
- Analyze changes to the business architecture to assess impact on
current infrastructure and application systems as well as projects in
progress or in queue. Adjust projects and systems appropriately.