Transparency: The Universal Value-add

Eric Donnelly, SVP & Chief Enterprise Architect, PNC [NYSE: PNC]
325
569
113

What does an architect do? What does an Enterprise Architecture (EA) organization do? Regardless of the role of the person I’m talking with or the organization where they work, these two questions always seem to come up. Ironically, I’ve also found that if I ask five architects what their job is – I will get at least three different answers. The same unfortunate metric holds true if I ask most high-level executives what the EA does for their organization.

  Remember, EA offers no value until its recommendation or deliverable is converted into an actionable event – and one of the easiest ways of forcing action is to shine the light of transparency  

To be fair, it’s probably easy to be confused because today’s Chief Enterprise Architect (CEA) faces multiple challenges and competing priorities. Some of the priorities vary by organization or maturity of the EA group, but they typically involve things like:

1. Leading the EA organization to become more business-outcome-driven→This is often an issue in Enterprises where EA has functioned as an extension of Infrastructure and Technology. 

2. Proving the value EA can bring to the organization→Ten years ago, industry experts made EA synonymous with governance. Since then, EA has struggled to prove its value and the lion’s share of Architecture activities have been disseminated through the organization.

3. Establishing an EA practice→Perhaps you are one of the lucky ones where EA was not previously a defined process or organization and you are looking to add value before Finance starts to ask hard questions.

So how do you write an editorial segment offering wisdom about EA that will apply to a broad audience when there are so many conflicting priorities and so much ambiguity about the architect role and EA function? I’d propose that there is one universal “guiding principle” that all EA organizations should follow if they want to maximize their value to the enterprise - regardless of where and how the organization has historically been focused. Whether you are leading the transition to a business-outcome-driven based EA organization, building a practice from scratch, or somewhere in between, there is a singular area where EA can focus which will always add value. Remember EA offers no value until its recommendation or deliverable is converted into an actionable event – and one of the easiest ways of forcing action is to shine the light of transparency.

There are two simple steps you can take to shine the light of transparency and help the organization see areas where it needs to focus.

Step 1. Identify issues or risks that matter to the enterprise and start to make them visible. Specific things that you identify will vary depending on the maturity of the organization and any transformation journey the organization is currently undertaking. Such examples of focus could include:

• Compliance with Standards  The value with standards is the ability for centralized organizations to create standard operating practices that ultimately reduce cost (less duplicity) and can increase response time changes in the business landscape (a small pool of experts vs a large pool of generalists).

• Obsolescence levels → Often organizations make the decision to not perform that next big upgrade because of the capital investment and lack of a solid business case. When done with eyes wide open and purposeful intent, these decisions are appropriate. But the balance sheet argument only gets you a year or two as you continue to incur “technology debt” via:

► Growing extended support contracts
► Increases in platform instability requiring incident remediation efforts.
► Response to cyber security threats of aging and unsupported technologies.

• Operational or Regulatory Risk  Not all industries are all under regulatory oversight, those who are will have a list of concerns.

• Cost / expense of technology → This can be an outcome of any of the previously mentioned items as well as others. Financial impact of technology decisions is critical to an organization therefore must be its own indicator.

• Others that are applicable to your organization.

Step2. Figure out how to deliver information in a mode that is consumable and understandable by the business. Personally I like the concept of “Business on a Page”, I recommend identifying some industry based model that represents how an organization of your type operates, this should not be an org chart and may not even map directly to the way the organization is structured operates

Understand the “levels” of this operating model. L1 should really be no more then 5/6 areas, L2 could be 5 to 10 items per L1 entity so one and so forth.  Going passed a L3 or L4 level of granularity quickly becomes a conversation of diminishing returns. Most EAMS tools will already have brought you too this exercise including application mapping into the appropriate business segment.

Why is the important? Few executives care about individual applications. Everyone cares about the performance of their call centers or perhaps trading floors, but focusing a discussion on the 20 applications and the 75 technologies that support those applications is too detailed.

With this information in hand more knowledge can be brought forth in the business decision making process. Ongoing expense of technology is one of the most actively discussed topics in any forum. Like all cost cutting exercise we are often focusing on broad brush strokes or straight % haircuts across all categories. How many of you have technology charge back policies that are a Peanut Butter tax lacking transparency to the business owners?

Consider our Call Center conversation a bit more. The business executive may not care about the 18 applications that support the call center but she will likely care about the total cost of IT ownership. She may even notice that a large percentage of that cost is one or two applications. Is that expense justified or is an outcome of say obsolescence or high change failure rate?

Even if your EA function is still largely technology focused, you can communicate technology decisions in a transparent way. Similar to the “Business on a Page”, consider creating a “Technology on a Page” view. Start with something like Technopedia as your primary organization (as with application mapping an EAMS will take you down this path well). 

Consider many of the same categories as above

1. What percent of your compute infrastructure maybe obsolete?
2. How many different operating systems does your infrastructure team need to support?
3. Database and SAN communication a popular source of problem management records?

In closing, whether transitioning focus, struggling with value to the organization, or simply looking to mature…consider a yearlong goal of “If Architecture does nothing this year it brings Transparency forward”! This will not make the CEA one of the most welcome people at planning meetings, but that will quickly change as the conversations move from a defensive mode to an intellectual engagement on “how to improve what we are seeing”. EA consumers rarely care about the process or internal workings of the EA organization - but they do care about the value the work efforts bring to the enterprise.

Read Also

Delivering Business Value through Agile EA

Kevin A. Wince, Chief Enterprise Architect, General Services Administration (GSA)

Architecture Is Architecture Is Architecture

John A. Zachman, Founder and President, Zachman International

How to Avoid Mistakes in Technology Evaluation

Ken Oxler, VP-IT Architecture & Chief Architect, Assurant [NYSE: AIZ]

"The architect" guiding principles

Leo Barella, VP & Chief Enterprise Architect, AstraZeneca [NYSE: AZN]