Seven SmartIT Initiatives : CIO Knows Best

The CIO’s journey is not easy. This is truer today, than ever before in the relatively short lifespan of the technology industry. The combination of economic pressures, alongside the disruptive impact of present day technology trends, makes the present time unique and particularly challenging for IT Leaders.

The last big disruption, the “DotCom” era, began rolling when the economic cycle was still peaking. The pressure was on innovation and creating competitive advantage. The economic downturn that followed in the early 2000’s put cost-efficiency on top of the CIO’s agenda. In a sense the scenario today combines these two periods.

Technology advances and maturing trends in Cloud computing, Consumerization, Mobility, Analytics and Collaboration, all combine to be disruptive, presenting an opportunity to innovate during a period when the CIO is constrained by budgets and capital flexibility. With this crowding of the CIO agenda, decoupling of IT strategy from Business strategy becomes impractical. It is no surprise that increasingly IT Leaders are being judged on their ability to connect technology investments to business impact and outcomes.

The way forward requires battles to be fought and won on many fronts. To break it down, these “battle fronts” maybe broadly classified into, what I refer to as, SmartIT Initiatives. These are discussed below, but not listed in an order of priority, and for a reason.

So, how does the CIO prioritize? Where does he/she start? My contention is that the CIO knows best! Starting with the initiative that is most critical in his/her judgement, the CIO must commence the virtuous cycle of positive business impact. Like any business initiative, it is of course critical that the SmartIT initiatives receive management commitment, specialist expertise and the operational support required to deliver on the objectives.

The initiatives link up like a jigsaw, and invariably point the way to the next set of priorities or SmartIT initiatives. This approach allows several advantages. Firstly, it is relevant to different sizes and complexity of IT, not only to large and complex IT shops. It enables a modular initial business case, keeping cost and “time to results” short. At conclusion, the CIO judges the value gained, turns attention to consolidating the gains and to “re-invest” into the next set of priorities or SmartIT initiatives.

The SmartIT Initiatives recommended are:

Optimization Drive

The services delivery model, whether in-house, in-sourced or out-sources; aggregated or distributed; needs a regular reality check through peer benchmarking, in terms of cost, service levels and productivity. This aids decision-making in several key decisions, such as structure, delivery models, service level agreements, commercial negotiations, vendor selection and management. Optimization initiatives span across the layers of infrastructure and application management, driving strategic ROI over time, while often producing competitive pricing for services.

Architecture Alignment Audit

Enterprise Architecture is a must for any organization undergoing change, and change is a constant. To effectively align technology with the business drivers, this discipline is mandatory for all sizes. With technology options such as cloud, virtual desktops, analytics, mobility and collaboration, the CIO needs a framework to assess and roadmap the technology landscape, starting with any legacy and standalone systems. The pressure to enable new business models, with rapid consumerization, increasing use of smartphones and tablets, leads to enhanced data security concerns; all making for a complex landscape.

Programme & Portfolio Assessment

Staffing is expensive; knowledge is critical and productivity is paramount in ensuring optimized global programme management. Global programme management gets complex whether out-sourced or in-sourced, despite a pragmatic dashboard of KPIs and routine reviews. Assessing global programmes, using local expert interventions can make “business as usual” predictable and efficient. Likewise, a dispassionate assessment of the application portfolio, and a pragmatic life-cycle planning, can shed costs and unleash more bandwidth to innovate.

IT Governance and Relationship Improvement

Assess and drive the effective deployment of governance frameworks, such as COBIT and ITIL, to model and monitor IT processes and assets, ensuring appropriate policies and controls are in place. Critical relationships with business functions and the various components of service delivery, whether in-house, in-sourced or out-sourced, are effective and enable informed decision-making, management of risk and optimisation of value. This also works to minimize any misalignment of business and IT perspectives, the inefficiencies of short-term tactical IT deployments or unproductive use of resources and assets, and importantly the potential risks to data security and regulatory compliances.

Search for Operational Excellence

Challenge and assess the design suitability of the IT function, testing for effectiveness, efficiency and customer satisfaction, including its structure, processes, governance and diversity. There are several popular frameworks, often used in combination, such as ITIL for service delivery, CMMI for maturity across the software engineering life-cycle and COBIT for governance and risk management. Often outsourced delivery centres and in-house teams, work through connected processes, making process integration a critical link, to achieve predictability. Process wastes like rework are the prime indicator for reviewing the effectiveness of the quality assurance processes, and their adherence. The need for developing a balanced scorecard for IT is evidence alignment with business needs is often ignored.

Technology Transformation Healthcheck

Assess the effectiveness and seek out optimization scope for the presently deployed technology transformations, such as a CRM or an ERP system. With specific tools and expertise, an audit of the “state of deployment” can yield directions for better user adoption, improved outcomes, identification of training gaps, expensive yet unused customizations, and opportunity to transition to “vanilla” features from expensive customizations.

Management Support Team

The seventh and final SmartIT Initiative is the selection of a suitable IT management support team, who can work alongside the CIO in the quest for improving business outcomes. The choices available are wide, with boutique consultancies and big powerhouse consulting brands. An ideal team would be one with a combination of ground-level operations experience; specialist expertise in relevant areas; provider and user side experience; delivery track record in diverse sectors and cultures; and geographically located for ease of intervention. Obviously the team needs to be a trusted third-party completely aligned to CIOs goals, but a real advantage would be if it were dispersed and available locally in user and provider locations, allowing regular management support and interventions, to implement initiatives beyond providing independent assessments and advice.

Contributor: Navin Anand

The Identity Crisis of Enterprise Architecture – Top Three Misconceptions

Enterprise Architecture (EA) starts out being misunderstood, like an adolescent suffering an identity crisis.

In the last article, we discussed what EA is, and how organizations can it as an effective tool to create a blueprint for a business aligned IT infrastructure. But does it get used effectively or not, very much depends how well it is understood. Today, we make an attempt to dispel the three most popular misconceptions about Enterprise Architecture (EA).

EA is going through an identity crisis, was eloquently debated by a panel of Open Group experts in this recent podcast, and how it gets often confused with Enterprise Transformation. Mark Blowers of Ovum wrote a few days ago that Enterprise architecture remains an IT-centric approach. And that is not helping.

Jumping right to it then, let me describe what Enterprise Architecture is not, by listing the top three misconceptions holding back enterprises from using this discipline to architect effectively for their ever-changing needs.

1. Enterprise Architecture is neither a “point” solution architecture nor a departmental architecture

Traditionally, the impetus for developing IT systems in an organization comes from business needs within a particular department. Apart from the plausible exception of ERP systems, the concept of systems that were common across the enterprise did not exist. In the late 90s, with the advent of websites, the intranet and the extranet, middleware platforms were employed to carry out Enterprise Application Integration (EAI). In fact, as mentioned in my previous article, EA becomes a necessity the moment two or more systems start exchanging data in a real-time manner. As business grows, so does the number of systems serving it. In order to manage this complex labyrinth of systems, an EA exercise becomes almost mandatory for the effective alignment of IT with business drivers and goals.

2. Enterprise Architecture deals with the IT alone

If aligning IT with business is the name of the game, then it is imperative that there is an equal participation from the business units i.e. other functions, both customer-facing as well as support. The early part of the EA process primarily involves workshops and one-on-one interviews with the business users of IT. These inputs are crucial for creating an appropriate EA vision for the enterprise. In other words, the executive sponsor for the EA exercise should be the entire executive and senior management team and not merely the CIO.

3. Enterprise Architecture is for large and mature organizations only

An evolved mature business organization typically comes with baggage of traditional legacy systems. The IT landscape in such an organization consists of systems with disparate technologies, at various stages in their life-cycle. This often is can be traced to vendor dependence and/or decentralized IT procurement. Such a landscape necessitates a corrective EA exercise, to make amends by defining the direction. On the other hand, a nascent organization with relatively few systems benefits from a proactive EA exercise to avoid the heterogeneous, complex and expensive IT landscape, of its mature counterparts. Needless to say, the cost, time and the resources required for an EA exercise are directly proportional to the size of the organization. All in all, an EA exercise is beneficial and recommended whether an organization is young or mature, big or small. In this instance, size does not matter!

Dr. Jeanne Ross, Director at MIT Sloan for the Center for Information Systems Research, discusses the impact of Enterprise Architecture on creating competitive advantage, especially in the new world of collaboration, analytics and mobility, that all depend upon digitized platforms. She argues that EA forces a re-think of business strategy, in her presentation about Gaining Competitive Advantage from Enterprise Architecture

In the next article, we will compare and contrast different Enterprise Architecture methodologies, and discuss their suitability for differing situations.

Contributor: Dr. Hemant Adarkar

What is Enterprise Architecture: Reduce Growth Pangs with EA

A typical modern organization depends on Information Technology (IT) to keep track of its customers and transactions, automate processes and disseminate information to its stakeholders. This implies that a growing organization necessitates an ever-increasing IT infrastructure and suite of IT systems. Traditionally, IT systems were distributed in various departments, such as, finance and accounting, sales and marketing, the shop floor, the human resources department and so on, with little or no interchange of data among these departmental IT systems. This led to the classic complaint from the executive management that they did get the “reports” or dashboards needed to take timely and effective operational and strategic decisions.  In management parlance this problem is often described as one of  “data silos”.

To cater to a specific business problem when the organization needs a “point solution”, the IT professionals charged with the responsibility to design such an application, provide the “solution architecture”. Clubbing of such solutions at a departmental or a divisional level leads to a “divisional architecture”. Creating a blueprint of the entire IT infrastructure at the organizational level is called the Enterprise Architecture (EA).

The MIT Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) define Enterprise Architecture as “the organizing logic for business processes and IT infrastructure reflecting the integration and standardization requirements of the company’s operating model. The operating model is the desired state of business process integration and business process standardization for delivering goods and services to customers”.

It is said that the moment an organization has two or more IT systems, it needs an Enterprise Architecture (EA), which provides a cogent view of the electronic channels available to stakeholders, integration of the various IT systems and the timely data for business intelligence.

Validated by the experience of ever-changing organizations, the fact is that IT infrastructure and the business goals of the organization start to diverge, as the business expands and changes rapidly.  In addition to its primary aim of business aligned IT, EA also provides a framework and guiding light to the CIO, through policies and processes that encompass vendor management, technology choices and solution investments.

Gartner believe that Enterprise Architecture (EA) governance has an important role to play on the demand and supply sides of IT governance, and recently ran an excellent webinar on the subject.

Contributor: Dr. Hemant Adarkar