Having recently attended Gartner’s Enterprise Architecture Summit, I came away with strong validation about some of the IT challenges we hear about regularly from our customers. Businesses both large and small are struggling with the realities facing IT, namely doing more with less. Budgets are shrinking, partly because IT can’t always deliver an acceptable ROI on new technology, on top of which everyone expects state-of-the-art applications that work effortlessly on the device of their choice.
For these reasons – and others – IT is almost always in reactive mode, and this summit provided good ideas for how to fix that. The main issue is that IT is not being strategic enough, and to address that, Gartner is advocating a stronger focus on this role – Enterprise Architect. This is a big picture role, defined by having a holistic view of the full range of business operations, along with the current technology landscape to properly support each function or line of business. While many businesses think they already do this, the proliferation of Shadow IT indicates otherwise, and only reinforces existing silos that impede efforts to get that holistic view.
A key reason why IT can’t deliver that ROI is the duplication of services across the organization. Before the advent of the cloud and shared services, individual departments or units had their own budgets for applications like conferencing, email or video. Aside from being an inefficient use of resources, this approach prevents IT from creating business value by integrating these applications into other company-wide applications. Furthermore, IT can’t centralize these horizontal applications and leverage economies of scale, especially from the cloud.
This is where the Enterprise Architect role brings a strategic element to IT. The patchwork approach most businesses take in adopting new technology tends to be driven by specific functions acting to address their specific needs. This delivers tactical value to that unit, but not the organization as a whole, and nor does it result in a standardized adoption of technology across all units.
In principle, the Enterprise Architect is uniquely positioned to understand the needs of each business unit and which technologies will best support them. Only when this happens can IT become a proactive agent of change, especially when it comes to leveraging today’s technologies. As the cloud matures, new models are emerging for both delivering applications and consuming them. This is where an Enterprise Architect adds new value, by identifying which applications are best managed under a shared services model, and which need to be provided in a more dedicated manner for a specific department or function.
Every business will have its own mix of these needs, but my overall takeaway is that without a strategic roadmap to align technology investment with business outcomes, IT will remain stuck in a reactive mode, making it harder for the business to benefit from today’s exciting technologies. I’ll explore this further in my next post, focusing on how the cloud brings new value for collaboration applications, especially video.