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Using Business Architecture to Drive IT/Business Alignment

by Roy Hunter

Published January 2011

Part of the Oracle Experiences in Enterprise Architecture article series

We hear phrases like IT-business alignment tossed around so often that we get numb to them. They become mere buzzwords without much real value. IT/business alignment is, in essence, an alignment of IT strategies and initiatives with business strategy goals and objectives. But it's not just an alignment; it's also a demonstrated support of those goals and objectives through clear linkage and quantifiable measurements, established through the completion of the business architecture activities.

Making the transformation from a technology-centric to a business-centric approach can be quite challenging-mainly because most companies are overly focused on IT architecture, including applications, information and technology. That's the comfort zone for most of the professionals working in this space. Business architecture has its own goals and deliverables, such as defining a future state architecture and transforming an IT organization from simply delivering IT solutions to optimizing business processes and enabling business capabilities and services.

Avoiding the Narrow IT-Only Focus

In a recent conversation with a corporate CIO, I asked, "Do you know what your business strategy, goals and objectives are for the near- and long-term?" He admitted that he had only a vague idea. His approach had been to rush to completion on IT projects instead of working collaboratively with the business leaders to find out what they want and need.

Unfortunately, it's a common scenario. IT leaders often follow a project-by-project, technology-centric approach, thinking: "If we build it, they will come." They are pressured to show quick results from their IT investments, so the natural inclination is to push systems into production without fully answering the fundamental question: Why are we doing this in the first place?

That's no way to maximize long-term value. To improve the situation, there needs to be a shift in the way IT aligns itself with the business. IT leaders should be asking business leaders, "What are your strategies, goals, and objectives, and how can I deploy new information systems in a manner that supports that future-state business architecture."

Getting the Right People Involved

In order to define an optimal future state business architecture, you must have the right people involved. This entails not only identifying the key stakeholders from the business and gaining their commitment to participate in a highly collaborative activity, but also using the right language during these discussions to keep them engaged in an on-going dialog.

The business leaders are familiar with the business strategy, planning, and operations. In most cases they have already developed business plans that are in alignment with the corporate goals and objectives. Meanwhile, IT leaders bring their technology strategies and initiatives to the table on how to take the company where they think it needs to be.

The million-dollar question is, how do you merge these two perspectives?

For starters, you have to identify the key stakeholders from the business and gain their commitment to participate. To this effectively, I've seen a number of techniques ranging from organizational (e.g., responding to a mandate from an Executive Sponsor or an invitation from a steering committee), to governance (e.g., establishing ownership and accountability by identifying process owners and solution owners), to promoting metrics-driven behavior (devising KPIs and incorporating them into the performance appraisal process).

First - Enterprise architects must work to build their business skills and acumen, and become proficient with strategy maps, balanced scorecards, business capability models, business process models, and other common business tools commonly used for strategic assessment and planning. Using these tools/techniques enables EAs to interact with business leaders "using the language of the business" so as to gain and keep their attention, promoting an ongoing dialog. This also helps enterprise architects describe complex technology solutions in business terms and equate those solutions with business value.

Second - Enterprise architects must tune in to what makes the business succeed. This includes business drivers, channels, segments, competition, peers in the industry, industry benchmarks, operations, and end-to-end business processes. This is where practical and effective business architecture comes into play.

Third and Fourth - Enterprise architects must build relationships and demonstrate value. Start with a line-of-business lead with whom you have a good relationship and focus on a vertical or horizontal slice of business functionality to generate a quick win. Taking small steps allows you to demonstrate value while building your business skills, acumen, and knowledge. Define quantifiable benefits and monitor the results. Leverage your success and share the metrics to sell the next line of business lead on the value of Business Architecture.

Staying in Sync

Once business and IT are on the same page, how do you make sure the alignment doesn't disintegrate over time? The architecture development process is iterative so hold regular meetings to keep people engaged in an ongoing dialog. Enterprise architects should define the future state business architecture at least once a year - generally about the same time that business leaders have completed their strategy planning for the year ahead.

Additional Enterprise Architecture resources:

About the Author

Roy Hunter is Senior Director of Enterprise Architecture at Oracle Corporation.