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Getting IT Architects to Speak Business

By Dana Gardner
Feb 16, 2009 4:00 AM PT

The Open Group, a vendor- and technology-neutral consortium, last week delivered TOGAF 9, an enterprise architecture framework. As part of the festive opening ceremony for TOGAF 9's arrival, a panel of experts examined the value and role of enterprise IT architecture in light of a dynamic business environment.

Getting IT Architects to Speak Business

The topics also addressed how IT can better communicate and collaborate with the business interests around them. To gain deeper insights into how IT architects can bring value to businesses, I had the pleasure of moderating the panel discussion at The Open Group's 21st Enterprise Architecture Practitioners Conference in San Diego on Feb. 2. [See a related interview with The Open Group CEO Allen Brown.]

Panelists included Tony Baer, senior analyst at Ovum; Janine Kemmeren, enterprise architect at Getronics Consulting and chair of the Architecture Forum Strategy Working Group in The Open Group; Chris Forde, vice president and technology integrator at American Express and chair of the Architecture Forum in The Open Group; Jane Varnus, architecture consultant for the enterprise architecture department at the Bank of Montreal, and Henry Peyret, principal analyst at Forrester Research.


Listen to the podcast (49:51 minutes).

Here are some excerpts:

Chris Forde: The degree of change that we're seeing in the economy and its implications for businesses are -- Nick used the phrase Tsunami during his presentation earlier today -- and that's really not an understatement. What you have to do is keep your eye on the ball, and the ball is not enterprise architecture. The ball is where the business needs to manage and operate itself effectively.

When the rules change, you can't just reach back into the same old bag of tricks around architecture. You have to sit down with your partner and say, "Okay, what has changed? Why has it changed, and how do we respond to this?" You need good people with good heads on their shoulders to be able to do that.

There are a lot of issues with the way IT operates. But in having a conversation about enterprise architecture and moving the business ... We don't want to have the conversation about architecture. We want to have the conversation about what it is that's going to make their business more effective. Some of those issues may be inter-business unit related, not specific to IT, and that's a good conversation to have.

Tony Baer: The problem that IT has had perennially is that we have over promised, we have under delivered, and we have overcharged. The whole idea of adopting more consistent practices is that hopefully you can avoid having to reinvent the wheel every time and stop making all those damn mistakes.

Jane Varnus: The thing we can't do is go back to the business and start talking technology to them. They're not interested in how we support them. What they're interested in is that we should, at a reasonable cost, be reasonably flexible, be absolutely reliable, and be creative. Lag is a big problem. We have to address their concern that we are a partner who is responsive.

So, my short advice is that we have to learn to talk to the business better in their terms, become more tuned in, translate whatever solution we have, and express it back in the terms of that problem. I don't know what that problem would be in anyone else's business, but don't mention SOA and don't mention the cloud.

Forde: One thing that's probably going to be useful is a degree of transparency into the IT function. When the business clearly understands what's driving the quotes coming back to them, they're in a better position to determine what kind of investments they really need to make. In the course of developing that transparency, it causes IT to be more introspective about the way it operates.

There's a certain set of conversations that needs to occur about how effective the IT operation actually is. This is also in context with other business units. We talk about IT as if it's separate from the business, when, in fact, it's a component of our business operation just like others. It has a certain level of importance and a relationship to certain types of technology, but it isn't the be all and end all.

We just have to get into a better conversation with the business partners about what's driving the behaviors in IT, and transparency is one way to do that.

Henry Peyret: The new way to demonstrate value is to explain that we will be able now to make something faster in terms of time to market, time to design, and time to deliver. All of those things are what we call key agility indicators.

It's the flexibility aspect, again, but not the flexibility that every IT provider is talking about. Why? Because they are not defining what type of flexibility they are talking about. We need to specify a key agility indicator at a business level.

We need also to assess our process to say that perhaps we need to deliver that in three months. Unfortunately, our current process and systems are able to deliver that only in five months. How could we shorten that? How could we bring in new practices and new ways to do that, or perhaps a new technology?

Baer: At the end of the day, that's what enterprise architecture is all about. It's not about devising frameworks. It's about making your performance consistent, rational, and understandable.

What I think we have to fear is lag and inertia. That's what we really have to fear. One of the things I have actually been very cheered about with TOGAF 9 is that it's taken some important steps in the right direction, in terms of making the practice and the learning of enterprise architecture more accessible, and it's modularized things.


Dana Gardner is president and principal analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which tracks trends, delivers forecasts and interprets the competitive landscape of enterprise applications and software infrastructure markets for clients. He also produces BriefingsDirect sponsored podcasts. Disclosure: The Open Group sponsored this podcast.


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