Research


This comes from Leo de Sousa, an EA in Australian Higher Education who asked the Shared Insights EA Network to provide ideas about what EA trends they were seeing.

My take: leading organisations get EA and are figuring out how to link it to other important IT governance-related practices, but this is still a sparse community with demand for skills outstripping supply and not enough consistent “good practice” guidance out there. Grass-roots communities (like the aforementioned EA Network) are starting to help EA practitioners build a critical mass of “stuff that works”, though.

If I had any more time, I’d think about writing a followup to The Technology Garden, focused specifically on Enterprise Architecture practice in the real world…

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McKinsey has just published the results of a survey of 72 senior IT executives in the US (free subscription required for the full article) which investigated IT strategy maturity. The majority of respondents believe that they are successfully aligning IT strategy with business needs. What’s particularly gratifying, in light of the principles we outline in the book, is that 83% agree that their IT strategy is developed through collaboration with the business, with 79% saying that their IT plans are shaped by close integration of their IT and business strategies.

The research also shows that almost 90% are at least somewhat effective when it comes to getting the basics right and managing IT infrastructure and 85% when it comes to managing IT as a business-driven portfolio and focusing IT where it can add most business value, further endorsing our principles.

All in the garden (sorry!) isn’t quite so rosey when it comes to harnessing technology innovation. This isn’t too surprising. In the book we outline a chain of four goals for sustainable IT-business alignment and it’s only in the last link in that chain where IT is in a position to drive the business “through business innovation based on understanding of IT and business capabilities and constraints and how they relate to one another

Beyond Blinking Lights and Acronyms is a consistently thought-provoking blog from “currently resting” CIO Mike Schaffner. In this entry he calls out a recent CIO.com piece which looks at the challenge of trying to run an IT capability when individual business groups also have their own separate IT teams. Mike calls this “Shadow IT“.

The key to resolving this challenge, as we explain in the book, is to first accept reality – as a CIO or IT Director in the 21st Century you cannot, and will never be able to, control all IT activity that goes on within your organisation. Once you accept that, you can start to work with business teams and their own IT groups to build trust and influence. The critical thing to get right is that you have to be able to pick your battles – to know what’s really important to put effort into standardising across an organisation, and also to know where you should adopt a more relaxed approach.

Another of the sessions at the Architects Council was a workshop held between members of academia and the council members (largely from industry), to report on last year’s “Developing the Future” initiative, and to discuss the quality of people coming into the UK IT industry and how it could be improved. This was a hugely valid, and valuable discussion – particularly in the context of IT/business alignment. Undoubtedly there will be issues in other countries, but there does seem to be a dearth of high-quality post-graduate trainees in the UK, that really “get” what IT is for – to the extent that UK companies are looking abroad for skilled staff not just because people are cheaper, but because, quite simply, they are seen as better.

The mind map below shows the outcomes of the discussions, in terms of both the challenges and the resulting requirements. I thought the school system came in for a lot of stick, which was unfortunate as (or perhaps it was because) there was nobody in the room to defend it!

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The past couple of days, I’ve been very lucky to have attended the Microsoft-hosted UK Architects Council, which brings together a number of quite senior architects and CTOs from a broad range of companies, public bodies and software and service providers. IT was my first opportunity to present the 6 principles in their entirety, so I was ever so slightly nervous as I took to the podium. However, I was reasonably comfortable that the audience were exactly the kind of “we get it” people with whom the core messages would resonate. Or at least should, unless I messed up!

As things turned out, the reception was warm, the feedback highly useful, and a number of interesting debates were sparked off. Following the run-through of the principles themselves, I hosted a workshop session in which the attendees divided into three groups to consider Enterprise Architecture (EA) in the context of the Technology Garden. I wanted to know the answers to three questions:

– What were the potential ways that EA could help deliver IT-Business alignment, and how should these be articulated?
– What are the challenges faced by organisations trying to deliver EA?
– What actions need to be undertaken to maximise the chances of EA success?

The results are shown in the mind map below. One of the key take-away messages for me was how important EA is seen to be, when trying to enable IT people to understand what the business actually does. Equally, however, this will inevitably involve treading on toes, on both the IT and business sides of the house. If organisations want to reap the benefits of an improved dialogue between the two sides, they will have to consider how they counter the inertia of past practices and behaviours.

By the way I meant what I said by ‘lucky’, as this really was a top-class forum. Day 2 was spent discussing how to raise the level of IT skills in the UK. More on this – and another mind map – soon!

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I just came across a thought-provoking article on Christopher Koch’s CIO Magazine blog which digs into the differences exhibited by CIOs who report to CFOs, vs those who report to CEOs. The comments on the blog entry are as interesting as the entry itself I think!

Although there are a number of ways of interpreting the results (are the CIOs reporting to CFOs in those positions because they’ve failed to demonstrate the “right stuff”? Or does the reporting line stifle the CIO’s ability to shine? Which is the cart and which is the horse?) It appears clear that CIOs reporting to CEOs have more freedom and more in the way of a contributory role to play in shaping organisational strategy.

CIO Magazine has just published the results of its annual CIO survey and it makes for interesting reading in light of our work on the book (which is now with the publishers 🙂 ). Some of the highlights of particular relevance to the key principles we outline in the book include:

  • In common with our views on the importance of a common language between business and IT, 52% of the 500 CIOs surveyed identify communication as their primay strength
  • 68% of CIOs now have a seat on the business executive management committee which is encouraging given the importance of establishing a peer relationship with the business
  • The top activity consuming CIO time is interacting with CXOs and business executives, which is critical if IT and business are to pull in the same direction working towards coordinated goals and objectives

The survey also emphasises the shift in focus towards supporting innovation and providing automated support for externally facing, collaborative business processes such as customer service and support that serve to differentiate the organisation (although, somewhat counter to our view, accounting and finance is the most frequently cited business process being improved with IT!).

And, to top it off, the top management priority for 2007 is aligning IT and business goals, which should (hopefully) mean a receptive audience when The Technology Garden is published later in the year.