Why are CIOs and their Enterprise Architects Waiting for a Forest Fire?

You have probably seen it on the national news almost every night. California and the rest of the West Coast of the United States are in flames. The simple fact is the Native Americans knew that controlled burns were needed every so often to keep forests healthy and prevent the tragedies that we are seeing currently on the national news.

data breachIT organizations wait for enterprise forest fire too

The same could be said for IT organizations. Instead of doing controlled burns that in fact mature our enterprise architectures, we wait for the equivalent of a forest fire to upgrade and change what we have in place. You know what I mean: a merger or acquisition, a collapse in sales, or a major security breach. Talk to the experts on application consolidation and enterprise architecture and they will tell you that most organizations wait for something major to happen to consolidate their applications, to improve their support for the business, or to take cost out of their IT. It is only when things get dire, that IT organizations consider the cost saving from application consolidation and improved enterprise architecture. It takes an event to provide the agility to in fact drive further digital transformation.

Many IT people, that I have talked to, say their organization prefers a kind of biological homeostasis. Recently, I was lecturing to my class about different managerial styles. I described how those that do not act of a decision making opportunity make a decision as well. The same can be said so here. IT leaders that do not make a decision to continually consolidate their applications and improve their enterprise architecture make a decision as well. Some of you may still be saying to yourself why should I act? How can I prove to my business leaders the business value of making a change prior to a tragedy? According to Jeanne Ross, however, organizations that commit to improvement and what we now are calling digital transformation “keep getting better, faster, and more profitable”. Winners she asserts are keenly focused on business process integration and business process standardization.

Why should businesses care about application consolidation and enterprise architecture?

The question that I suggest business people should be asking themselves today is how not improving the enterprise architecture hinders the achievement of business ends. As Jeanne Ross says, “Individually, the applications may work fine. Together they may hinder “companies’ efforts to coordinate customer, supplier, and employee processes.” (Enterprise Architecture as Strategy, Jeanne Ross, pg 7). Jeanne in her book describes how IT organizations should have a continually improvement plan for moving enterprise architecture from “business silos” to what she describes as a “business modularity architecture”.

So if I have still have not convinced you that architecture matters to the business, let’s look at the goals that COBIT 5 suggests that IT organizations should measuring themselves against and how meeting them really matter to your business.

Alignment of IT and business strategy

CIOs talk about this topic all the time. It comes up in all the IT surveys as well. And the fact is that the state of your applications and enterprise architecture is critical to making today’s business strategies working. COBIT 5 suggests this is about more than the level of stakeholder satisfaction with the scope of the actual and planned portfolio of programs and services. It is about whether the enterprise architecture provides the integrated and connected data that is needed to answer critical questions around customer and supplier or enable derivative business capabilities including things like predictive analytics on top of customer data.

Realized benefits from IT investments and services portfolio

Here COBIT 5 suggests that enterprises need to have an up-to-data architecture. It suggests that in particular that an up to date architecture allows organizations to go from silos of redundancy to the business modularity that Jeanne Ross suggests. In this mode, you want as well IT to demonstrate re-use efficiencies across the enterprise. A great question to ask is what percentage of projects have re-use defined components? Increasingly, you want this to be a high number.

IT enabled business agility

COBIT 5 says that an organization’s enterprise architecture needs to be agile and to support the rapid rate of enterprise change. The first step in this process is to establish software and hardware standards. Jeanne Ross states in her book that this type of standardization lowers costs and drives better business agility. Reuse of application components does the same thing but it also makes it faster to respond to new business requirements.

Availability of reliable and useful information for decision making

Here COBIT suggests that you should be looking at the number of identified gaps in models across enterprise, information, data, application, and technology architecture domains. But it is critical here as well to first consolidate applications and architect an enterprise architecture for current and future needs. This includes important linkages and the mastering of data.

IT compliance with internal policies

Anything that holds IT accountable is a good idea. Establishing Enterprise Architecture Standards aim to holding IT to demonstrate and ensure accountability matters. This includes IT compliance and support for business compliance with external laws and regulations

Parting remarks

As I said at the beginning of this piece, most IT organizations wait to do application consolidation and improvements to enterprise architecture. Clearly, there are good reasons why the funding is not often available to do these things, unless some critical event takes place. For many this is not a case of ignoring what needs to be done but rather that they have not support to get it done. The question that we in IT should be asking ourselves and our business customers as well should be asking us is why in this still the case. It pays to do what ITIL Version 3.0 suggests in an entire book, Continual Improvement. We should be refining and moving forward our architecture and consolidation and harvesting applications and their data.

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Twitter: @MylesSuer