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In the final analysis, an IT architecture process is more about structure and discipline than it is about breakthrough thinking and radical change. Yet, one practice may lead to the other. To reap the benefits of the architectural process, your team must gather a vast amount of information, present it systematically, maintain its currency, and win over the greater IT community to its application as part of business as usual. To achieve these tangible results, the process must involve a significant cross section of IT personnel from the outset — mostly the organization's best and brightest. The value inherent in the undertaking is multifaceted:
Direct and tangible linkage between the enterprise's business strategy and its IT investment strategy
Coherent, comprehensive, and collective IT vision for the organization (for both business and technology leaders)
Enhanced ability of the IT organization to deliver quality products and services while controlling and even reducing the cost of their creation and ongoing maintenance
Leveraging of the collective knowledge of the enterprise's IT assets and a more long-term view of asset value
Enterprisewide, cross-functional consideration of IT resources
Avoidance of unnecessary and uncoordinated investment in inappropriate technologies and IT research
Regular assessments by the organization's IT leadership of its embedded base of technologies against external opportunities, threats, and business imperatives
But these benefits will only come to fruition if the architecture process delivers on its promises. To that end, your IT organization must participate directly in the formulation and maintenance of process deliverables and abide by its proffered direction. Although the business benefits detailed here may provide sufficient motivation, there are other justifications that may resonate more readily with your team's IT professionals. These benefits may be summarized as follows:
Clear and uniform process for selecting and prioritizing IT initiatives
Inclusive process that draws upon the expertise of the entire IT team
Creation of an accessible repository for current-state technical documentation and future-state plans and directions
Enforceable process for the sunsetting of superannuated technologies, allowing the technology team to focus on the most current products and services
Accountable process for technology planning, change, and maintenance
Process that shields the technology team from working with inappropriate technologies and from conducting unnecessary applied research
More proactive approach to IT planning and risk management as these link to the enterprise's business needs and plans
Together, these two sets of drivers, one business-oriented and the other technology and engineering-oriented, should help IT executive management win support for and participation in the IT architecture process. As the NEF case study demonstrates, the IS organization took on an architectural process primarily for the second set of reasons. People in IT were tired of investing their limited time and energy in projects that did not go anywhere because these projects were so misaligned with business needs or based on inappropriate technology choices. Also, they were frustrated by working to support systems that were being maintained well beyond their useful life. Finally, they thirsted for access to leading-edge technologies and a voice in the selection and deployment of leading-edge products. The process, as described, helped them to realize these objectives and to mature as a better informed and more collaborative IT team.
For the business side of the house and for IT executive management, the ROI calculation involved different measures. As one might expect, their commitment was driven by the desire to rationalize the enterprise's technology platform, to consolidate system choices and associated support costs, and to reduce the overall total cost of IT ownership. It only became apparent subsequently that their investment in an IT architecture process led to more successful and more rapidly deployed information system solutions. Here, the ROI was less easily quantified but was appreciated all the same by NEF leaders. In the final analysis, the effort was vindicated by the parent company itself, because MetLife adopted and then adapted the process begun at New England Financial for its own uses.
For a modest investment, the IT architecture process will provide a valuable return. At the very least, it will establish for your enterprise a firm basis for making immediate investments and for addressing longer-term IT planning issues. However, the success of such an undertaking is not assured. First and foremost, it calls for a collegial form of leadership and facilitation, one that can comprehend the full scope of IT's technology investments without encroaching on the respective responsibilities of service and project delivery line managers. Second, effective architecture planning and documentation are all about process discipline, something that may run contrary to the dispositions of some IT professionals. Third, the effort must run as a KM undertaking: building communities of interest, winning the participation of thought leaders, organizing and managing large quantities of explicit information, and establishing ways to draw out and document tacit information.
Even a process architect brings only some skills, mostly around the integration of technologies, to the table. This person must partner with colleagues who possess a sense of the scope of the enterprise's technology investments and a solid understanding of how to get the job done. One of the obvious sources of such expertise is the PMO. Here, service and project delivery management responsibilities go hand-in-hand with an attention to process detail and a commitment to KM. By working together, technical architects and the PMO can bring to bear the skills required to support an IT architecture process. In doing so, PMO personnel will complement their other roles and responsibilities within the greater IT organization.
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