There is no question that adopting Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) is the driving force behind digital transformation. By adopting cloud-based applications, businesses can expand their enterprise infrastructure quickly and cost-effectively, adding new capabilities without investing in additional hardware. However, implementing a digital transformation strategy is more than extending the enterprise infrastructure. It also requires alignment of IT capabilities with business objectives. The moving parts of the enterprise must mesh to drive the business in the right direction.
For as long as technology has powered business operations, business leaders and IT experts have been disconnected. Senior managers set the course for the business, and the IT department provides the supporting infrastructure. This disconnect continues to place IT in a reactive position, scrambling to fulfill business requests with little regard for long-term planning. For successful enterprise transformation, management and IT need to collaborate, sharing ideas and expertise to develop a roadmap that applies just enough architecture and supporting technologies to achieve business objectives.
Elevating the Role of IT
In most organizations, the IT department responsible for managing the enterprise architecture reports to the CIO. The CIO gives IT a voice in the C-suite, but that’s not the same as collaborating with department heads and stakeholders to implement a cohesive IT strategy.
The enterprise architecture team comprises experts in software architecture, data management, and process management. They understand the moving parts that make up the enterprise landscape. They also have little interaction with the organization’s business side, although they are expected to support business operations.
Any enterprise transformation strategy is a journey, and while IT may have the responsibility, they can’t deliver the results on their own. Too often, the mandate to IT is to cut enterprise overhead, mitigate risk, and improve management, all reactive functions that make IT appear as a cost center rather than a strategic business asset. This “commodity” approach demands that IT prove its value year-over-year, which amounts to a race to the bottom.
For enterprise transformation to succeed, IT departments must be proactive partners, providing a foundation for forward-looking strategic programs built on new business capabilities. Rather than reacting to infrastructure emergencies, IT should focus on optimization and enabling future business opportunities. Enterprise architects can’t be effective unless they have a truly collaborative relationship with the business side.
Factors that Prevent IT Collaboration
Lack of teamwork has a profound impact on IT and enterprise transformation. Here are a few examples demonstrating how lack of communication and cooperation affects enterprise management practices:
1) Isolated solution development – It’s a common stereotype, but some enterprise architecture functions are designed without a clear knowledge of their actual role in business operations. Enterprise architects create new solutions without understanding how users will be affected by architectural principles and policies.
Creating frameworks and guidelines in a silo limits their effectiveness. What may seem like the most negligible concern to arise during the design stage may profoundly affect workflows and processes, making the entire project counterproductive. When IT makes users’ jobs harder rather than easier, IT is seen as an impediment rather than a partner, leading to attempts to sidestep enterprise protocols and introduce rogue IT. Department managers start adopting protocols under the radar to maintain productivity, and you end up with unauthorized solutions that fall outside of Application Portfolio Management (APM) guidelines.
Even without this worst-case scenario, operating in a silo can lead to smaller miscalculations and disconnects that keep enterprise performance at good rather than great. Sometimes it’s simply a matter of finding common ground. Data managers and project architects don’t always speak the same language, which makes effective communication difficult.
2) Balancing immediate needs with long-term goals – The pace of change in today’s enterprise architecture continues to accelerate. Still, enterprise architects need to balance immediate demands with long-range business strategies. Enterprise architects who collaborate closely with C-level executives may overlook opportunities to optimize the current state to improve business performance since they focus on the future state. Similarly, fighting everyday IT fires leaves little time for long-term planning.
Every enterprise architecture team should have a long-term roadmap that aligns with corporate strategy. However, such projects could take years to complete and don’t contribute to short-term returns on investment. Ignoring immediate needs in favor of bigger projects undermines IT’s credibility within the organization.
Too often, long-term strategies are ill-defined. Without a well-understood game plan and documentation, responsibilities and expectations become muddled. Stakeholders want to know about the impact on daily operations, especially when over-ambitious plans and future goals have no relationship to today’s operational reality.
3) Mired in the minutiae – At the other end of the spectrum, enterprise architects also risk becoming bogged down in daily IT issues. Too much of a focus on tactical needs reduces the strategic impact of IT on organizational goals. The organization should recognize IT as a promoter of innovation and new business capabilities.
Company management needs to see the enterprise management team as more than firefighters managing change requests and focusing on immediate wins. Technology is a fundamental differentiator for any organization, and enterprise architects need to function at a level that gives them a pivotal role in strategic planning as well as operations.
Developing a Collaborative Approach
To create a collaborative approach to enterprise transformation, you need to engage stakeholders, understand their needs, and allow them to provide feedback. The process needs to include participation from functional contacts across the organization, management, project overseers, and enterprise architects.
Rather than making decisions about the evolution of the enterprise in isolation, involving stakeholders from the outset avoids those common pitfalls cited above. Without thoughtful collaboration between stakeholders and enterprise architects, you risk producing multiple strategies that waste time and resources.
You need a feedback mechanism to bring all the stakeholders together and promote clear communication. You need a means for strategic stakeholders to share high-level ideas while providing grounded reality to support day-to-day operations to break down ideological silos and develop an enterprise architecture that has a business impact. Using a data-driven approach to collaboration helps the CIO promote strategic goals while still supporting daily operational needs.
Maintaining a communications cadence is part of successful collaboration. You can try to schedule regular meetings or workshops with stakeholders, but scheduling is always an issue. There are other ways to enable collaboration without affecting productivity, such as adopting a SaaS solution designed to facilitate shared enterprise strategies.
Enterprise architectures can differ dramatically. There is no one-size-fits-all since each enterprise has different data processes, applications, and infrastructure and different functional managers and stakeholders. Enterprise architectures also have multiple layers that span various departments and disciplines. Enterprise changes don’t take place in isolation and can have a broad impact. Any collaboration platform must accommodate different stakeholders and integrate the necessary data, models, processes, and projects.
Creating a central collaborative repository provides access to interrelated information. It also creates a single source of truth that can be kept up to date, so it is always current. And it provides a central repository where architectural models and data can be stored so stakeholders can review relevant information, whether at a strategic or operational level, such as application integration. Adopting a SaaS collaboration platform facilitates data access while maintaining security and compliance.
As with all successful SaaS solutions, ease of use is essential. The platform must demonstrate value for stakeholders and make collaboration easier, or they won’t use it. Any collaboration platform should safeguard input, compliance, and buy-in and make data gathering easy. Once you have consolidated the necessary data, stakeholders can assess the current state of operations, perform impact analyses, and make informed decisions about enterprise transformation.
As the cloud expands, the enterprise architect’s job becomes more complex. Adopting a collaborative approach to enterprise transformation simplifies the task by giving stakeholders direct strategic input into technological changes while giving enterprise architects the means to visualize their potential impact. Data, applications, and processes work together to drive business success. With an organization-wide approach to validate the business roadmap, IT can keep the enterprise strategy on course for ongoing success.
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