Sunday, March 27, 2011

Enterprise Architecture: IT Investments & Growing Systems Complexity

Throughout my fifteen years of professional experience in designing, implementing, deploying and maintaining IT systems, I’ve observed a pattern: Out of the business need to stay competitive, IT systems are getting more complex; however, these systems aren’t aligning with the business objectives of their organizations.

Organizations are spending more money but realizing less value from the unmanaged growing complexity of their IT systems.

I have helped organizations facing the following challenges:

1. Mapping business strategies and objectives to a well defined set of streamlined and integrated systems.

2. Systems growing in complexity and cost to maintain and manage, to the extent that some of those systems were crumbling under their own weights.

3. Organizations that lost many market opportunities because their IT systems did not allow them the flexibility to respond to current and near-future competitive demands. The weakness or non-existence of enterprise architecture effectively held back their growth.

4. Organizations that ran at higher-than-normal costs because of lack of integration policies between their existing systems.

5. Critical business data that was out-of-date or housed in duplicate repositories.

6. Business processes, although well defined, were ignored because of the lack of proper IT governance policies and commitment from top management.

I’ve come to understand that as systems become more complex they require more planning. Enterprise Architecture helps maximize the return on every IT dollar invested delivering real business value.

Also, I’ve seen that every organization is different; no one enterprise architecture approach fits all. Whether it is Zachman, TOGAF, or Gartner/Meta, each of the prominent enterprise architecture frameworks and processes has its strengths and weaknesses. In my experience, none of the top enterprise architecture frameworks is complete by itself. The winning enterprise architecture approach is often a hybrid.

It’s important to note what I have witnessed to be a major reason why enterprise architecture fails to deliver maximum business value: For an organization to reap the competitive benefits that enterprise architecture affords, it requires the commitment of the organization’s top management. Top management’s commitment is crucial when it comes to success of enterprise architecture because enterprise architecture is, at its roots, a set of processes, policies and frameworks.

At the end of the day, what enterprise architecture must deliver is business value and agility - reducing IT costs and complexity and increasing efficiency and effectiveness.