TEAC 05 : Architecture Strategist

Greetings and Salutations,

I recently attended The Enterprise Architecture Conference 2005 held by BTELL at Star Casino in Sydney. A lot of information was covered in a short amount of time (no surprise there!) and I decided that I will enter a retrospective set of entries for each of the sessions I attended. Where allowable by copyright, I’ll enter as much information as possible. Otherwise, I’ll just provide a brief description of my impressions of the session.

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The Enterprise Architecture Strategist
Presented by Jeff Scott, Principal Strategist Logical Leap (USA)

Jeff presented an interesting view of the EA process, with the focus being on defining the strategy correctly.

His argument rests on the premise that it’s time for Enterprise Architects to rethink their approach to strategy and their role as technology strategists. Architects, he argued, need to acquire more strategy building skills, move strategy strategy development up their priority list, and engage IT and EA strategy development.

Apparently 80% of all EA projects fail. 40% fail outright, and 40% fail because they are ineffective. Only 20% succeed, and this success is attributed to a strong strategy.

Jeff proposed that there were three missing links:

  • Lack of clearly articulated Business strategies
  • Lack of clearly articulated IT strategies
  • Lack of clearly defined EA strategy framework or strategy development methodology

Additionally, he listed the following list as the top ten reasons architects fail to create a strategy:

  1. Urgency of the moment
  2. Underestimating the Value
  3. Overestimating the difficulty
  4. Lack of strategy building methodology
  5. Political hurdles and conflicting agendas
  6. No formal “strategy group”
  7. Confusing planning with strategy building
  8. General lack of strategic thinking
  9. Technology focus
  10. Five year plans

He presented on four types of strategy domains that require thought as part of this process:

  • Technology Strategist:
    What technologies and industry best practices create IT efficiencies?
  • Performance Strategist:
    What is the mix of technologies, usage patterns, etc that maximize IT’s effectiveness?
  • Solutions Strategist:
    What is the best way to deliver client solutions to maximise IT’s current value?
  • Organisational Strategist:
    How do we best align IT and Business strategy to maximise IT’s future value?

Obviously, the point here is to provide a key to the success of the Enterprise Architecture project. Thus, Jeff proposed three methodologies to try and bridge the gap and create a strategic solution.

1. Inference

This methodology relies on answering the questions required to create a basic strategy on your own information. This is not as hard as you think. We, as technologists, already have a great understanding of the business. You’d be surprised how well you can answer some of these questions yourself. For example:

  • What is the companies desired geographic reach?
  • Will the customer base grow organically or via acquisition?
  • Is IT used primarily for cost reduction or Business Innovation?
  • Is the companies primary motivation price, product or service?
  • Is our business information or compute intensive?

The answers to these questions can then be added to the Architecture context (Scalable, Flexible, Adaptable, Industry Standard, Services Oriented, Performance based) to provide an inferred strategic plan.

The benefit of this model is that is can be achieved quickly, simply and self-reliantly. Of course the cons against this methodology is that you have no business validation, it’s purely tactically focused and of course is self-contained and thus open to our own mis-inference of our data.

2. Short Form

In this methodology, we actually make an effort to collate data from the public domain to assist us with creating a strategic model. By reading the last three to five annual reports, talking to your corporate communications department, using the web to research your own company, meeting and interviewing key project managers, business liaisons and the CIO you can answer further questions. This data can then be compiled into a five to twenty page “Strategic Intent Document” which can then be merged with the Architectural context as the strategic direction.

Just like the Inference model, this also provides the benefit of being able to be completed quickly, simply and self-reliantly with the advantage of being conceptually linked to the business. Unfortunately, this method still lacks business validation and is still tactically focused.

3. “Just Do It”

In this methodology, we bite the bullet, make an effort to collate data and create the business strategy document ourselves.

This process requires that we go out and speak to the business in some detail, generally you will find that:

  • The business strategy is known, simply not articulated
  • Interviewing the business units and working up will show us a better picture
  • Each business unit will have it’s own strategy, and some of these will seems to conflict

As part of this process, there are some thoughts that you must keep in mind:

  • Begin with the end in mind
  • Start with what you know
  • Solicit input & help from others
  • Group sessions work best
  • Stay focused on the business
  • Validate
  • Validate
  • Review
  • Validate

The beauty of this methodology is that it clarifies the business drivers, is future focused, creates strong business buy in and strengthens business relationships. However, it is a politically charged and labour intensive task, and is in danger of utilising poor methodologies.

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Obviously, there are other methodologies you could utilise, but the main intent of Jeff’s message is still clear: define a strategy for the direction of your architecture.

Remember, strategy is not the vision, nor the initiative, but a link between vision and direction.

I’d like to add that a well thought out and structured strategy should be able to provide a boundary for your staff, one that is not so rigid that all decisions are automatically fixed, however, neither is is it so loose as to be confusing or open to interpretation.

A good strategy should be clear, concise and communicable. The message should be clear and it will allow people to naturally align themselves to it. This will allow your staff to operate within the three-G’s : Goals, Guidance, Guts.

The strategy will provide them with the short and long term goals of the enterprise, allowing them the understanding of the direction, which therefore guides their decisions, processes and projects and offers them the courage (guts) to make the required decisions at crunch time that will follow the strategic intent.

TTFN!

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