By Paul Ayers, Director, Cloud Enterprise Architect @ Oracle
Many enterprises think the issues they are experiencing with technology are specific to their organizations, but the reality is that most organizations have remarkably similar challenges. Most of these are easily explainable:the business itself has changed onmanyfronts;technology has also progressed so rapidly that even the most knowledgeable in the field have trouble keeping up.
With the speed of advancements, many IT systems have quickly become legacy and what was once a standard is now an uninhabitable island. In the old days, the business process was king so the application was customized to match. Trouble is that those customizations resulted in the creation of an asset that is overly complex and thus difficult and costly to maintain. Add in the fact the implementation of many of these core applications has also been a bit of hit and miss over the years. The skills the project team had at their disposal at the time,and the business knowledge directing the outcome, more often than not left many holes. This has resulted in band-aid fixes being applied over time and many are now so fragile they are just left alone,festering.
Despite all this mounting technical debt and associated risk, it hasn’t contained the organization’s thirst for more technology investment. IT has grown to become a part of everyone’s life, both personally and in business.Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) has now entered the mainstream, with many businesses jumping down that route with gusto and for goodreasons.
The trouble is that the legacy systems still remain in place, as some business process or audit requirement remains. So now many organizations arefinding themselves in a spot of bother. They know they need to transform and leverage the capability that modern technology can provide, but they also have a current business to keep running and the ‘old’ IT to support. The costs associated with doing all of this start to add up fast.
The push for the IT group to reduce their spendcontinues compounding the issue. Most of this cost is labor and with skilled IT staff coming at a premium, the IT budget sticks out like a sore thumb. So the CIO looks to improve the way the IT group is run and reduce staff. However, in order to do that further investment is required,as they need to standardize, consolidate, simplify, and then automate.
The EA group needs to be the gatekeeper ensuring technology investments fit into an overall albeit fluid plan; risks are understood; frameworks adhered; and information flows documented.
Whether they admit it or not, in allorganizations, the IT group is struggling to meet the current needs let alone theever increasing expectations. But at least now it is recognized that IT has become critical to be able to operate the business. That said,business executives are rarely empathic to the challenges of the CIO.
For self-preservation, the CIO goes to ground and tries to improve his or her group. Meanwhile, business groups become impatient and express frustration at the lack of progress. I’ve seen many a case where the CIO is moved on, as they are perceived to be the issue and/or expensive consultancies are engaged to ‘fix’ things.
This rarely,if ever, works and instead, investment in IT grows mostly outside of the purview of the IT group – this is known as shadow IT.When shadow IT grows, you start to see integration and data management becomemore challenging and risks getting exposed. It’s then the IT group are required to step back in and regain some level of control. The cycle starts again and it becomes an IT issue.Although the push is for speed and agility in the modern business, it does not mean IT can be implemented without any controls being in place. Process is still required to ensure the enterprise is not doing something, which may increase organization-wide risks and costs.
This is the sweet spot where enterprisearchitecture (EA) provides the greatest value to the enterprise.The EA group needs to be the gatekeeper ensuring technology investments fit into an overall albeit fluid plan; risks are understood; frameworks adhered; and information flows documented. Over recent times, EA groups have been less than effective for a number of reasonshowever, it should be a key capability in the management ofenterprise technology.
The EA group should be the team that facilitates the development of a target state, therefore shaping all technology investments. However, traditionally this is where the EA group has struggled. Getting the balance of investments in improvements, preventive maintenance, and new capability is more an art form and not a science. Managing business expectations while also keeping the IT house in order is a constant challenge. This isn’t helped by the EA group being tarred with the IT brush, therefore perceived as favoring the IT group and not the business.
I’ve seen a number of attempts to fix this perception issue using the organizationre-structure hammer. This means moving the EA group away from the IT division and into a group like the Program Management Office (PMO) or other corporate area. However, all this does is create a divide between the EA group and the IT group instead. Tribalism is a naturalhuman trait so it needs to be factored into any structural decision.
At the end of the day, it’s simply about human relationships. Over history, people from different tribes have worked together effectively but it takes continual effort. Whether the EA group better aligns with a business group, IT group, or corporate group depends on where the most pain is and in most cases,it is in the IT group. If this is the case in your organization, itmeans they must put more focus into building the relationships with the corporate and business tribes. In turn, this requiresrecruiting EA staff with soft skills around relationship building and not just IT skills.But, like everything in life, it’s a balance.