Using business architecture to become a strategic partner

Businesswoman writing a flow chartPost by Mick Adams and Peter Haviland

CIOs in many organizations are being left out of a growing number of IT investment discussions. Given the ease with which business leaders can sign up for digital tools, the IT function risks being relegated to a reactive integrator. But this situation can be turned around, and business architecture can provide a means for doing so.

It’s a familiar scenario for many CIOs: you’re meeting the CEO, and the news isn’t good. Concerns are being raised that some parts of the business are not reacting fast enough to the challenge of digital. And those parts of the business that are moving faster are not doing so in a consistent way that can be properly integrated later on.

The truth of the matter is often that IT is not consulted about the decision to subscribe to a new app or service. Nevertheless, the CIO’s door is the first to be knocked on when some of the later implications become clear.

One of reasons why CIOs are being left out of key investment decisions is the proliferation of relatively low-cost cloud-based services. As a recent EY point of view highlights, new cloud services are easy to buy, and they often have an interface that is compelling and intuitive.

Companies are enticed by the prospect of quickly delivering new solutions without having to go through a protracted IT procurement process. And this seems to make sense at the time. But later on, it is the CIO who is questioned when the business finds it has a complex and jumbled digital portfolio.

How can this situation be changed? One possible way is to draw on business architecture tools and methodologies. These can help open the door to a more strategic discussion about the future state of the business.

At its simplest level, business architecture provides the bridge between strategy and operations. At its most effective, it can drive performance improvement across business functions, optimize the use of business resources and focus attention where it is most needed.

It can also help CIOs with a number of their core goals:

  • Aligning actions with strategy. Organizations lacking business architecture are more likely to develop misaligned silos, which increases the likelihood that redundant and risky operations will take place. For instance, one department might embark on a program to improve a set of processes, while another focuses on sourcing the same processes from a third party. The trick is to use a business architecture discussion to develop a blueprint that can help avoid unnecessary complexity.
  • Controlling costs and streamlining operations. Tough regulatory demands, new technologies and volatile market conditions present businesses with many serious challenges. These challenges are even more difficult for organizations that are misaligned and slow to react. When responding to these trends, organizations that focus on business architecture can help to control their costs and improve their agility. For example, out-of-date legacy systems can be identified through application rationalization, which can ensure the organization’s application portfolio remains lean.
  • Moving from a monologue to a digital dialogue. CIOs can use business architecture to facilitate and increase their interaction with the rest of the organization, around crucial issues such as IT spend and digital infrastructure. By avoiding the usual technology-led approach, CIOs who focus on business architecture can identify the current and future needs of the business from a strategic and operational perspective, increasing collaboration to develop cross-functional business solutions, and providing the business with pragmatic technology solutions that are linked to business strategy.

All told, business architecture gives a practical approach for CIOs looking to get more involved in wider business discussions. Utilizing basic business architecture techniques and developing some simple business architecture artifacts is a proven way of making this happen. It’s a challenge for many, but one worth exploring.

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