The greatest problem with aligning Information Technology to business is complexity.
Businesses are already complex systems of people, processes and technology, but the best-known models for organizing them to improve alignment are themselves complex and labor-intensive, adding to the problem while attempting to resolve it.
The most popular model for organizing business logic and resources with IT is probably the Open Group’s Architectural Framework (TOGAF). Version 9.1 of TOGAF runs more than 650 pages. It’s ostensibly non-prescriptive, but it’s still detailed and complex. The Zachman EA Framework iterates to a practically infinite level of detail, but remains persistently non-methodological, meaning that the cataloging and relational effort is high, and that correlation and execution can be difficult. Other mature frameworks have the same issues.
Even so, it’s not like businesses can entirely forego an organizing philosophy of some type for IT resources and business performance, so many focus on process and governance control within IT Service Management (ITSM) standards like ITIL. Yet ITIL implementations are primarily incremental for the very reason that they take a lot of time and effort.
Business is complex and the tools for rationalizing it remain complex.
Consider how the TOGAF ADM (Architecture Development Method) works. After setting down some organizing principles and creating a vision, you have to capture and define the current state of the business. Then you have to create maps of how information is used for the business and how data is shared and stored. Then you have to capture and map your existing technical architecture. At that point, you get to return to the business architecture and create a target state, and then to the information and data architectures to define their target states, and then to the technical architecture to create its target state. At that point you entertain potential solutions and select and prioritize a project that will move you to your target states. You plan for and execute migration, you address and document changes to the architectures, and you bounce requirements management off all the points in between.
Even if you’re not familiar with the model you can probably see right away that there’s an immense amount of cataloging and documentation that have to occur in order to make this work, and you’ve probably already realized that by the time you’ve effectively captured your current state it’s out of date because things have changed. I’m being repetitive, but it’s complex. Even though there’s an organizing structure and vision, the progress still revolves around a method that proceeds from the accuracy of its details and it doesn’t take too many errors to prevent the desired outcome.
One way of coping with that complexity is to model backward from the more general to the more specific instead, and to stop when getting higher granularity is more trouble than it’s worth. Functions or processes that are too hard to deal with or limited in value but still necessary can be orphaned until their utility has ceased or until technology obviates the issue.
An example of the former would be an insurance company I consulted for a couple of years ago. They had a dozen or so clients over the age of 90 on an old insurance application that wouldn’t migrate to the current system. It didn’t make sense to integrate it into a new architectural design, so it was left alone until time solves the problem. An example of the latter might be seen in the way in which automated application dependency and discovery tools made it possible to overcome the effort and errors of manual creation of CMDB’s.
In the graphic the red star shows the orphaned function, and the green triangles represent places where technology has created a solution that limits effort or introduces processes standardized by their inclusion in the technical solution. In other words, the processes and standards reside in the software instead of in documents and enforcement policies.
The same thing is increasingly true of infrastructure technologies, especially those related to virtualization, hyper-scale, and converged infrastructure solutions. These products are consistently incorporating intelligence that codifies and enforces processes and policies while simplifying systems management and creating the IT dynamism necessary to enhance IT’s alignment to business. They’re removing complexity and reducing the effort necessary to produce the kinds of outcomes businesses need in order to change quickly and create opportunities.
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