Are your Enterprise Architecture assets business centric enough?

Somewhat recently there’s been increased focus on the Enterprise Architecture of the US Federal government.  This of course comes on the heels of various initiatives which have been put into place which were designed to effectively bring everything up-to-date.  But the higher-ups aren’t satisfied with mere functionality; they’re beginning to talk about the business impact of their IT systems, which is a logical proposition to say the least.  Just like in the business world, the (US) Federal government and its related CIO’s are feverishly working toward bringing together all of the disparate resources out there under  more standardized forms of Architecture.

 Why are they doing this exactly?  On the surface, it is part of the S3 initiative, which stands for “shared services strategy”.  Its purpose is to actually determine which sectors of the Federal IT umbrella are useful, redundant, and/or acting as a drain on resources overall.  The problem it would seem (as is often the case in other situations where extensive networks are put to use) is that most IT departments falling under the Federal banner have become too “siloed”, or narrowly/singularly focused.  This is not to say of course that individual IT groups don’t have their own unique tasks to complete, duties to fulfill, only that many sectors are drifting too far away from centralized authority and perhaps even away from their primary areas of focus (in terms of the business they engage in).

 This of course brings up another interesting question, is your enterprise architecture really focused on delivering results in a business capacity?   Most people might say, “Yeah, our IT department delivers the services we need to run our offices every day, what’s the problem?”  First off, the functionality of IT isn’t really being called into question; it’s whether or not the capabilities of the department are being utilized in a way that might allow the business to maximize their potential.

 As you are undoubtedly fully aware, technology continues to grow unabated, with new services, software and hardware becoming available in a constant, steady stream.  In order to become a truly modern, successful business, companies have to learn more to accurately gauge the value of their current architecture vs. any adaptations/additions they might be able to make.  The point is that IT departments are starting to wake up (en masse) to the concept of becoming more of an active player in business-centric goals and decision making.

 Simply put, most of the individuals comprising the management tier of any company are not personally able to direct their company’s IT resources in the right direction when it comes to enacting business strategies.  Likewise, many who understand business typically have no idea when it comes to IT, ergo, it’s up to the IT department to “meet them halfway” with an approach to enterprise architecture that’s more informed by business-centric goals, etc…

 What the US Federal government is really trying to do with their program, for example, is to increase their ROI (return on investment) with regards to their IT assets, which is more or less exactly what businesses should be doing as well.  However, it’s not always about determining the practical ways that IT can support a business, a truly informed and cognizant IT department should be able to stay a couple of steps ahead when it comes to implementing new technologies.  In this way, a business can capitalize on new ideas and potentials at the first opportunity, which can make all the difference in the world in terms of competition.  Perhaps a simpler way of putting it is  IT departments need to start aligning their goals with those being discussed in the “big board room upstairs”.

 In the end, a successful architecture and IT program is able to maintain a high level of predictability.  However, don’t get the wrong idea, in this case the word “predictability” doesn’t imply boredom or simplicity, but a steady stream of proven results that can be both measured and duplicated on a continuous basis.  Additionally, those IT departments which are able to produce great results with a stabilized, let’s say, “Curve of improvement”, are not only perfectly performing their job but also they’re adding additional value to the company itself.

 All-in-all, good enterprise architecture should reinforce good decision making at all levels of a company, as well as to influence it.  IT is a very unique component of any business, and up until the last few years, you might even say that it’s been slightly overlooked or neglected in some ways…but no more.  These days, a great IT department is more-or-less seen as a necessary component of any successful business, and the quality and focus of its architecture, is arguably, one of the (if not the) most important facets of any operation.

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