Watch this space for musings on Enterprise Architecture, Business Process Management and Information Management.


Conquering Business Complexity

Many modern businesses are being constrained in their ability to respond to market challenges, due to the complex nature of their IT systems. Rather than releasing the shackles, systems that promise to address the issue of IT complexity and poor business alignment are merely compounding the problem.

Enterprise Architecture, Business Process Management and Information Management are disciplines that promise to improve matters for businesses. But they are traditionally looked at in isolation and remain very focused on technology, rather than looking at the wider enterprise landscape. Because of this, their success has been limited.

However, business complexity can be conquered by understanding that the three disciplines are in fact closely linked, and blending best practice from each can bring tangible benefit.

Read the eBook and whitepaper at http://www.ipl.com.

Successful Business Transformation

Enterprise Architecture (EA) has been with us since the mid-eighties, when John Zachman first introduced us to his framework as a tool for managing complexity and aligning business with IT.  Numerous frameworks, methodologies and tools have emerged since then, from US federal and military frameworks such as FEAF and DODAF, through bespoke methodologies from the likes of Gartner, to open frameworks such as TOGAF.  This plethora of frameworks and methodologies all share a common purpose: to manage and communicate the complex relationships between business, data and IT assets and to translate strategic business goals into actionable change across people, process, information and technology.

However, despite the maturity of EA as a discipline, many businesses continue to have their fingers burned by failed EA projects.  A 2008 study for Rotterdam University by Jonathan Broer found that two thirds of all EA projects did not fulfil expectations.  So what are the pitfalls we should be wary of, and what factors contribute to successful EA led business transformation?  This article outlines 7 critical success factors for EA projects.

A Compelling Case for Change

EA is about business transformation – actionable change.  Change is hard.  It can take significant effort, time, money, risk and sacrifice.   It’s far easier to be complacent, to stand still and maintain the status quo.   Any business transformation will therefore require a compelling case for change; describing the changes in the business environment that make change necessary.  It must communicate in unequivocal terms the likely results of inaction within a defined timeframe, and therefore convey a sense of urgency.

The Case for Change should answer the question “Why are we doing this?”  Without a compelling Case for Change, executive sponsorship of any EA project is likely to be short-lived at best, and is likely to dry up at the first sign of pain.

A Clear Vision of the Future

Once the business drivers and case for change have been established, we must clearly communicate how the business needs to change – and what a better future looks like.  This is the purpose of the architecture vision.  Every EA project requires a clear vision that outlines the target business operating model, the supporting data, application and technology architecture, and highlights how it will deliver the business goals and objectives.

The architecture vision is an essential tool, ensuring that all stakeholders understand the rationale behind the proposed business transformation, and remain committed.  The vision answers the question “What does the better future look like?”  The business transformation may require many stakeholders to make short-term sacrifices for greater, long-term payback.  Without a clear picture of the end goal, it will be difficult to take these stakeholders with you on the journey.  Use language and terminology that will be understood by all.  Rich pictures are an excellent technique for communicating the shape of the current or future business landscape, use them liberally.

As John Kotter puts it, in “Leading Change”, an effective vision must be imaginable, desirable, feasible, focused, flexible and communicable.

Business Ownership & Buy-In

Every EA project should be driven by, and clearly aligned to the business strategy, goals and objectives.  After all, EA is about turning those goals and objectives, into actionable change across people, process, information and technology assets. The business strategy, goals, objectives and measures must be understood, documented and incorporated into the architecture, ensuring that any changes to the business, data, application and technology architecture can be traced back to specific goals and objectives.

All too often, we see IT functions owning and driving EA initiatives, then retrospectively trying to justify their value to the business.  Many of these initiatives are self-serving, limited in scope and ultimately limited in value to the business.  Telltale signs are a heavy bias towards application and technology domain modelling, with no traceability to business goals and objectives.

Board-level executives own the business strategy, vision and are accountable for meeting business goals and objectives.  In the same way, these board-level executives must buy into, and be accountable for, the EA approach that will deliver those goals and objectives and turn vision into reality.

Targeted Analysis

Once the vision is articulated, many projects fall into the trap of analysis paralysis – endlessly modelling every conceivable viewpoint without pausing to consider the value of doing so.  I’ve seen numerous projects diligently modelling every single Strategic, Operational, Service and System Viewpoint, simply because “we’re doing MODAF”.  Avoid prescriptive deliverable templates with mandatory subsections for every viewpoint under the sun.

Instead, before embarking on any time-consuming modelling effort, pause to consider your stakeholders.  Understand their interests and concerns, and model only those viewpoints that address those interests and concerns.  A Stakeholder Map, as described in TOGAF provides a useful technique for cataloguing those viewpoints of value to stakeholders.

Incremental Value Delivery

Avoid trying to “boil the ocean”.  Strategic business transformation doesn’t happen quickly, and by trying to do everything at once, there’s a risk that you’ll spend a lot of time and money on an architecture that is never realized.  Instead, look to partition the business transformation into a number of transition architectures that are bite-sized milestones on the way to the target architecture.  Each transition must deliver business value of its own, allowing value to be delivered early and at regular intervals; ensuring stakeholders see real progress and remain committed for the long haul.  By splitting the business transformation into a number of smaller, more manageable steps, we are also able to significantly de-risk major business transformations.  Using a Capability Based Planning technique, we can break capabilities down into capability increments which can be aligned to the portfolio of projects and programmes.

Strong Governance

Even the best planned EA projects can drift off course and fail to deliver without adequate governance in place.  Before significant architecture effort is expended, adequate governance structures, processes and tools should be established.  A cross-functional architecture board should be established to oversee the realization of the changes set out in the architecture vision.  The board ensures that the target architecture meets the requirements of the business, that the transition plan provides a sensible and low-risk roadmap for delivering change, and that the changes to business, information and technology assets are implemented in line with the plan.

The governance board must represent the interests of all key stakeholders, and must have sufficient authority to enforce architectural compliance or grant dispensations under exceptional circumstances.  The board provides a control mechanism, ensuring the effective implementation of the vision.  Ensure that the structure, charter and responsibilities of the architecture board are understood and communicated to all stakeholders.

Effective Stakeholder Management

Effective stakeholder management is perhaps the most important factor of all.  Losing the support of one or more key stakeholder groups has seriously undermined many change programmes.

The realization of strategic business goals and objectives is often a lengthy process and may require sacrifices to be made for the greater good of the enterprise.  Understanding the interests, concerns and requirements of each stakeholder group, and pro-actively planning your engagement and communication with them, will ensure they stay committed and supportive on the journey.  Regularly review your architectural viewpoints to ensure that stakeholders concerns are adequately addressed, and communicate key messages on a regular basis.  Unsurprisingly, effective stakeholder management takes considerable time and effort.  Understanding the power, influence and interest level of each stakeholder group will allow you to focus your efforts on the key players.

A Final Word

Finally, don’t get hung up on tools and frameworks.  There’s deliberately no mention of them above.  While the right choice of tool can make the modelling effort a breeze, the choice of tool or notation is unlikely to make or break the project.  The same applies to frameworks.  Whilst tailoring a framework to your needs is a necessary pre-cursor to any EA project, changing the framework half way through a project is a recipe for disaster.  Pick a framework, tailor it, and stick with it.

By ensuring these critical success factors are in place, businesses will ensure their EA projects are in a much better shape to deliver successful business transformation.

Successful Process Improvement

Why do many process improvement initiatives fail to deliver the promised ROI?  Richard Shreeve explains why successful process improvement involves much more than workflow design and automation.

Processes are the power house of any business.  They describe how a business sets about delivering value to its customers in the form of products or services.  Put simply, they articulate how a business does what it does.  It almost goes without saying therefore, that these processes are of fundamental importance to the business, and need to be managed and exploited just like any other corporate asset.

But processes don’t operate in a vacuum; they come together with people, information, technology and the working environment to deliver that value.  Sadly however, many business process improvement (BPI) initiatives fail to consider the full context within which the process operates – the scope for many initiatives is restricted to technology-led workflow design and automation.  It’s no wonder then that many businesses continue to have their fingers burned by BPI initiatives that either have unexpected side-effects, or fail to deliver the promised ROI.

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