PODCAST: Exploring business-IT alignment: A 20-year struggle culminating in the role and impact of Business Architecture

Listen to this recorded podcast here: Exploring Business-IT Alignment: A 20-Year Struggle Culminating in the Role and Impact of Business Architecture

The following is the transcript of a sponsored podcast panel discussion on defining the role and scope of the Business Architect, in conjunction with the The Open Group Conference, Austin 2011.

Dana Gardner: Hi, this is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, and you’re listening to BriefingsDirect. Today, we present a sponsored podcast discussion in conjunction with The Open Group Conference in Austin, Texas, the week of July 18, 2011. We’ve assembled a distinguished panel to delve into the role and opportunity for business architecture. We’ll examine how the definition of business architect has matured and we’ll see why it’s so important for this new role to flourish in today’s dynamic business and IT landscapes. We’ll also see how certification and training are helping to shape the business architecture leaders of tomorrow.

Here to help better understand the essential impact of business architecture on business success, is Harry Hendrickx, the Chief Technology Officer, CME Industry Unit, HP Enterprise Services and a Certified Global Enterprise Architect. Welcome, Harry.

Harry Hendrickx: Thank you, Dana.

Gardner: We’re also here with Dave van Gelder, Global Architect in the Financial Services Strategic Business Unit at Capgemini. Welcome, Dave.

Dave van Gelder: Thank you, Dana.

Gardner: And we’re also here with Mieke Mahakena. She is the Label Leader for Architecture in the Training Portfolio at Capgemini Academy and also a Certified Architect. Welcome, Mieke.

Mieke Mahakena: Thank you.

Gardner: Also, Peter Haviland, head of Architecture Services in the Americas for Ernst & Young. Hello, Peter.

Peter Haviland: Morning, Dana.

Gardner: And last, Kevin Daley, Chief Architect in the Technology and Innovation Group at IBM Global Business Services. Hello, Kevin.

Kevin Daley: Hello, Dana.

Gardner: Let me start by addressing both Harry and Kevin. There’s been a new paper that you are working on refining the definition of business architecture, but I’m interested why this is so important now. We see that CEOs around the world really are seeking fundamental change. They recognize that we’re at an inflection point. Why is that the case? Why is the role of business architect so important now? Let’s start with Harry, please.

Business-IT alignment

Hendrickx: Thank you very much, Dana. Yes, it is a very important question, of course. Why are we putting so much effort in getting business architecture on the scene? Over the past one or two decades, business-IT alignment has been number one on the CIO agenda, and apparently the organizations have increasing difficulty getting business-IT alignment resolved.

There are quite a few people pioneering in business-IT alignment, but apparently there was no urgency yet to recognize this role more specifically. HP, in the past two years, interviewed CIOs worldwide, and they all indicated that they face quite large and complex transformation processes. They also recognize that business-IT alignment is one of key issues. We think that the business architect really can provide some resolution to get those processes in better shape and more successful.

Gardner: Kevin, your thoughts. Why is it so important right now?

Daley: At IBM, we have a CEO study and a CIO study that come out in alternating years. One of the things that started coming out loud and clear in 2010 was that managing complexity and building operating dexterity required a better understanding across the entire company.

We’ve started seeing a trend to move not just from business IT alignment, but to business and IT convergence. There’s an understanding more and more that information technology, and technology in general, is a core part of the business model now. There’s an understanding that now we have a situation where business and IT aren’t so much aligned, because of the fact that IT is part of business.

Where we did interviews and surveys and then compiled them for thousands of CEOs, we came up with three key elements. Amongst those was managing and taking advantage of complexity while building operating dexterity. That’s the key theme.

One of the problems that we’re seeing from the CEOs is having for decades separated IT as if it was its own business unit, instead of part of the true sense of the business. It’s been an interpretive science. To manage that complexity they needed a means by which to start with the design of where they’re going and have have a business strategy.

How do they take that strategy and transform it into technology and into information management? They needed an ability to have a framework in which to have that substantive discussion between the people who were responsible, such as the CIO who is responsible for technology and the operations and the COOs, who are really about the execution of the overall picture.

What we’ve seen from our CEOs is a need to start being more integrated. There have been market pressures that they having to respond to. The big economic downturn was a big change for everyone, and they are trying to address it.

They’re looking at means that they can start integrating more globally. They can start to increase their cost variability and start becoming more agile in how they operate their business. To do that they need a means by which they can more effectively communicate.

Driving understanding

So far, we’ve been seeing that business architecture is a perfect way to start driving an understanding. It’s a place where both people who are used to seeing standard business models like revenue and capability are able to associate that to the different types of architectures and designs that we see coming out of the technology group.

It’s giving them a common place to meet and jointly move forward with what they’re trying to do in terms of managing the complexity, so they can be more agile and dexterous.

Gardner: Dave van Gelder, it sounds as if what we’re trying to do here is at a very high level in the organization. Does a business architect and architecture have to be at a high level to be successful? Where in the org chart do we typically see this role? Is it near the top? Does it matter?

van Gelder: It depends on the maturity of an organization. Within Capgemini nowadays, we talk about business technology. As Kevin said, business and technology are not separate. Technology is part of the total business.

When we started the Business Architecture Working Group in 2006, there was a lot of discussion about two words, business and architecture, and nobody knew exactly what we were talking about. Everybody had a different understanding of those words. In the last years what you have seen is that business architecture is looked at in a different way. Currently in the Business Architecture Working Group, we see business architecture as something that brings the balance between all the other architectures in the company — that’s IT architecture, financial architecture, money, people architecture, and a lot of other architectures.

If business architecture is bringing the balance between the different aspects of a company, then business architecture is something that should be handled in the top of the organization, because balance should be created between all the different aspects in the organization.

Gardner: Based on what Dave said. it sounds, Mieke, as if we’re talking about a federation of architectures,. What then is the fundamental problem that the business architect needs to solve? Is this getting into the actual mechanisms or is it about organizing the people around some sort of a vision or strategy?

Mahakena: It’s more like making sure that, whatever transformation you’re going to implement, you align all those different aspects. As Dave told us, there are a number of aspects in an organization that might need to change, and you can have all those different architectures for those aspects. But, if every aspect goes its own way in changing, then they will never be aligned. Business architecture is meant to align all of those aspects to make sure that you have a balanced, consistent, and coherent set of operations at the end.

Gardner: It sounds as if we’re in agreement that this is a high level function, but what is it that people might stumble upon, if they direct this in a wrong direction? What is business architecture not good at? Peter, what should we avoid? What’s a misstep in terms of either the level in the organization or the target of the activity?

Many things at once

Haviland: 

Business architecture is similar to other forms of architecture, in that it tends to try to do many things all at once. The idea of enterprise alignment is definitely the right outcome, but there is enough complexity there to blow steam out of your head for many, many years to come.

Certainly in our experience of implementing these types of functions in organizations, functions that constrain scope very well also tend to communicate very well around what their status is, what their progress is against milestones, and what outcomes they’ve achieved: and they tend to articulate those outcomes in terms of real business value. What business architecture is not very good at are broad-reaching types of goals that don’t have measurable outcomes.

Gardner: So, it’s not just let’s have a designated business architect and a laurels-wearing individual, but move more towards something that’s very practical and that shows results. That leads to a question about how to professionalize this role.

Anyone could stand up and call themselves a business architect, but what is The Open Group, in particular, doing about actually certifying and moving towards a standardization of some sort. Does anybody have any thoughts about how to make this more rigorous?

Hendrickx: The first question we get asked is, what’s the difference between a business consultant and a business architect or a business analyst and a business architect? We also have enterprise architects and technology architects. Is there a reason for being for the business architect?

This is something we did a lot of research on at HP and we delineated the role of the business architect quite clearly from the business consulting and the business analyst aspect. The business architect’s role is distinct, because he combines the organizational strategy with the operations. He identifies the implications of this strategy, as well as that of the technology for the business operations. This is opposed to the business consultant, who is more outwardly looking to the commercial aspects of the organization and what that means for the structure. The business analyst is looking more at not the structure of the operation, but at the solution level.

When we look at the enterprise architect and the solution architect, the business architect focuses more on the complete implications of the strategy and technology trends on the operations, whereas the enterprise architect is more interested in the IT and the implications for the IT strategy and how IT should be deployed. The business architect is much more focused on the complete performance of the business operations.

So, the bottom line of these delineations of the past one-and-a-half years is that there is a reason for being for a business architect. It is a distinct role and it has a real solution for a problem.

Gardner: Thank you, Harry. Anyone else with some thoughts about how to make the certification and standardization of this stick?

Defining the profession

Mahakena: What we’ve been doing in the Business Forum, after we decided that business architecture has its own reason for existence, we described the business architecture profession – what’s the scope and what should be the outcome of business architecture. Now, we’re working on the practice of business architecture by defining a framework, looking at methods, and defining approaches you can use to do business architecture.

Parallel to that, if you know what the profession is and what the practice is, you’re able to create the business architecture certification, because those things help you define the required skills and experience a business architect needs. So, we are working on that in the Business Forum.

Daley: Let’s look at business architecture from the concept that has existed, combining the thoughts of what Mieke and Harry have already talked about. When we work with clients, for those of us that are in consultancies, we see that there is normally something that’s similar to business architecture, but it’s either a shadow organization inside a purely business unit that isn’t technology focused, or it is things like the enterprise architects who are having to learn the business concepts around business architect anecdotally, so that they can be successful in their roles.

I’d suggest that we’re seeing a need to make it more refined and more explicit, so that we’re able to identify the people that fit for this. They have specific things, instead of having general things that we have today. For me, the certification helps provide that certainty as a hiring manager or as somebody who is looking to staff an organization.

It provides that kind of clarity of what they should be doing, giving them specific activities, specific things they do that create value for the company. It takes out of the behind the scenes action and pull something that’s critical to success into the front with people who are specifically aligned and educated to do that.

Gardner: Thank you, Kevin. Let’s speak a little bit about why the strategic and top-level aspects of this certified individual or office is so important. It seems to me that, on one hand, we have more need for different technology competencies in an organization, but at the same time, we’re starting to see consolidation, particularly at the data center level, fewer data centers, more powerful and vast data centers and consolidation across different regions. How does globalization fit into this? Do we need to think about the fact that if we have fewer data centers but more technology requirements, doesn’t the role of somebody or some group need to come together so that there is a pan organizational or even global type of effect?

Let’s start with you Peter. How does the globalization impact the importance of this role?

Haviland: Globalization is creating more and more complexity in the business modelsthat organizations are trying to operate. Over the last couple of decades, with the science and the engineering of IT, there has been enormous investment by companies to actually operate, maintain, and improve their IT in their current world.

In many cases this IT work has outpaced the comparable business efforts inside those organizations when they think about their business, their business models, and their business operating principles. What we’re actually seeing now is that the rigor, the engineering, and the effort that’s put into technical architecture and IT architecture is now being proposed on the business side, with many businesses managing process improvement activities. These tend to be at quite a low level, however, when you compare them to business architecture initiatives at the enterprise level.

What we’re actually seeing now is that the rigor, the engineering, and the effort that’s put into technical architecture and IT architecture is now being proposed on the business side and many businesses have process improvement activities. Many of them see to be at the process level. Those processes are defined at quite a low level, when you compare it to some architecture initiatives that are enterprise wide.

Scope and challenge

If those architecture initiatives are at the high levels that are needed, you start to consider the scope and challenges that come into play, when you start talking about globalization. So, with the increase in scope and the global way that people are operating across cultures, geographies, and languages, that requires this discipline, which does operate at that high level to start to organize the other areas, but perhaps at a lower level.

Gardner: Harry Hendrickx, thoughts about this issue of increased complexity and yet more consolidation in terms of where IT is housed, managed, and governed?

Hendrickx: There are two aspects that need to be paid more attention to with globalization and more complexity. First, the business architect is, or should be, equipped to look at the organization, not only within the boundaries of an organization, but also the ecosystem of organizations that will mold together and have to be connected to produce the value.

Since these are more formalized contracts or relationship with different organizations connected to each other, there is a dynamic that is hardly seen anymore, that is not transparent anymore. There clearly needs to be some more detailed insights and transparency for each organization, so that people understand what the impact of certain developments or events will be. This can’t be done just by logic or just by watching carefully. This really needs some in-depth analysis for which the business architecture is built.

The second part of it is that the due to the complexity, the decision making process has become more complex and there will be more stakeholders involved in the different areas of decision making. The business architect has a clear task and challenge as well. By absorbing the strategy, technology trends, and the different developments and focusing on the applications for operations, he has the opportunity to discuss with the different stakeholders. He has the opportunity to get those stakeholders either mobilized or focused on specific decisions: the deliverables you will provide.

Gardner: We certainly see a lot of important characteristics in this role: global, strategic high level, encompassing business understanding, as well as technology. Dave van Gelder, where do you go to find these kinds of people? Who tends to make a good business architect or is there no real pattern yet established as to who steps up to the plate to be able to manage this type of a job?

van Gelder: To all the complexity already mentioned, I’d want to add something else that we found in the Business Architecture Working Group, which is more research in the whole field. That’s the problem of communication. How do people communicate with each other?

If you look in the IT world, most people come from an engineering background. It’s hard enough to talk to each other and to be clear to each other about what’s possible and how you should go or what you should go for. If you start talking to all those other areas in the business, then suddenly people have a completely other way of thinking. Sometimes they use the same words and don’t understand each other.

It’s not easy to have these kinds of people that need very good communication skills next to all the complexity that you have to handle. On the other hand, you need an architect when it’s complex. You don’t need an architect when it’s simple, because everybody can do it. But an architect is just a person. I say if I am a simple person, I can only handle simple things. What you need are people who can structure. I can only work with things when I can structure it, when the complexity is fairly well-structured. I then have overview of all those complexities, and then I can start communicating with all the parties I have to communicate with.

No real training

At the moment, I don’t see any real training or development of these kinds of people that you need. Most of them come with a lot of experience in a lot of fields, and because of that, they have the possibility to talk to all kinds of people and to bring the message.

Gardner: Mieke, at Capgemini Academy, you’ve obviously encouraged and encountered folks moving towards a business architect role. What are your thoughts on what it takes and where they tend to come from?

Mahakena: Let’s have a look where they can come from. What you see is that this role of business architect can be a next step in one’s career. For example, a business analyst, who has been creating a lot of experience in all kinds of fields, and he could evolve to watch a business architect. This person needs to get away from the detail and move towards the strategy and a more holistic view.

Another example could be an enterprise architect who already has analytics skills and communication skills. But, enterprise architects are more or less focusing on IT, so they should move more towards the business part and towards strategy and operations.

One could be the business consultant who is now focusing on strategy, also should have those communication skills, and will be able to communicate with stakeholders in high positions in companies. Business consultants have a lot of industry knowledge. So they should need more knowledge about technology and perhaps improve their analytics skills and learn more to how to structure operations.

So, there are number of existing roles that already have a lot of skills required for business architecture. They just have to enhance skills and get new skills to do this new role.

Gardner: We talked about how this is important because of the internal organizational shifts and the need for transformation. We’ve seen how globalization makes this more important, but I’d like to also look a little bit at some of the trends and technology.

We’ve seen a great deal of emphasis on cloud computing, hybrid computing, the role of mobile devices, wirelessly connected devices, sensors, and fabric of information which, of course, leads to massive data, and they need to then analyze that data.

This is just a handful of some of the major technology trends. Kevin Daley, it seems to me that managing these trends and these new capabilities for organizations also undergirds and supports this need. So how do you see the technology impetus for encouraging the role of business architect?

Daley: I’m seeing from my work in the field that we’ve got all these things that are converging. Certainly, you’ve got all these enabling technologies and things that are emerging that are making it easier to do technology types of things and speeding them up. So, as they start maturing and as organizations start consuming them, what we’re seeing is that there’s a lack of alignment.

Business relevancy

What this trend is really doing is making sure that you have something that is your controlling device that says what is the business relevancy? Are we measuring these peer-to-peer — measuring something such as massive data and information fabrics compared to something like cloud computing, where you are dispersing the ability to access that more readily. It creates a problem in that you have to make sure that people are aligned on what they’re trying to accomplish.

We’re seeing that the technologies that are emerging are actually enabling business architecture in a fashion. It provides that unified vision, that holism, that you can start looking at combinations of these technologies, instead of having to look at them as we’ve had to in the past of siloed elements of technologies that have their own implications.

We’re using business architecture as a means to provide the information back to the business analyst who is going to look and help. You can provide the business implications, but then you have to analyze what that implication means and make decisions for how much of that you’re willing to accept within your organization.

In the notions around how I investigate risk, how I look at what is going to improve market, and what is the capacity of what I can do, there’s a disconnect that business for which architecture is helping provide the filler for to get to the people that are doing these corporate strategies and corporate analysis at a level. That allows them to virtualize the concept of the technology, consume what it means and what that relates to for a business or in terms of its operation and strategy and the technology itself.

We’re seeing this become the means by which you can have that universal understanding that these are the implications, and that those implications can now be layered, so that you can look at them in combination instead of having to deal with each technology trend as if it’s a standalone piece.

We’re seeing this as a means by which to provide some clarity around what any adoption would be. When you adopt technology, it obviously has a level of maturity it has to reach, but it also has a level of complexity. It’s being able to start taking advantage of more than just one technology trend at the same time and being able to realistically deliver that into their business model.

What I have been seeing is that the technologies are driving the need for business architecture, because they need that framework to make sure that they are talking apples to apples and that they are meaning the same thing, so that we get out of the interpretation that we have had in the past and get into something that’s very tactical and very tactile, and that you can structure and align in the same way, so you understand what the full ramifications are.

Gardner: Peter Haviland, we have these multiple technology developments overlapping. They can be opportunities for businesses, but they can also perhaps be problems, if you don’t manage them.

What are the stakes here for business architecture and for organizations that can master this? It seems to me that they would have a significant advantage. For those that don’t, it could mean a significant cratering of their business potentially. So are we talking about an existential level importance for business architecture? How important is this now?

Haviland: IIt’s extremely important. What I see is that this is a discipline that’s just crying out for more people and more maturity. You almost need it to become pervasive throughout organizations now.

Feeding technology

The most common story I encounter is simply that organizations spent a lot of time in the past creating their processes and then they spent a lot of time feeding technology solutions to those processes. In recent times, the pace of technology change has moved faster than that previous paradigm.

What you’re looking at is at people saying, well, I am the business, there are all of these technology options out there. I cannot find a way forward and so how do I exploit those? That is where the business architecture profession is really being pushed to the front.

That said, there is a slight risk here that it may be considered too much in isolation. I mean, it is an architecture profession, it is a part of architecture, and the value of architecture is to provide that aligned view across the various domains that are important in terms of business, technology, information, security, and those types of elements.

When it comes back to what’s at stake for businesses that are investing in this particular area and for businesses that are trying to reconsider the way that they can operate themselves to support technology, they are moving ahead and they have competitive advantage. Businesses that aren’t doing that tend to be left behind, because the pace of change of technology is going to get faster.

Gardner: We’re here at The Open Group Conference. I wonder if any of you could fill us in on what The Open Group is now doing to advance this definition, mature the role, promulgate certification, and hasten the effect and benefits of business architecture in the field. Who can update us briefly on where we stand with The Open Group’s movement on certification and definition?

Mahakena: All those subjects you mentioned are part of the work of the Business Forum. The Business Forum is working in parallel on all those things. For example, it’s defining the profession and defining business architecture, working on methods and frameworks and approaches, and working on certification.

We need to do that in parallel, because all those aspects have to be aligned. We also need alignment in our own work to make sure that the certification, for example, are just the skills you actually need to do the business architecture and to create the outcomes we have defined in the profession and practice part.

We’re on our way as a Business Forum and we have done a huge amount of work, but we’re not ready yet. There are still a number of subjects we need to discuss, and we need to align everything we have now to make sure that we have a consistent package of deliverables that can be used by the members of The Open Group and anyone outside as well.

That’s where we are at this moment, and we are hoping to deliver a set of documents that will be accepted by The Open Group, by the members, and then they can be shared.

Hendrickx: I want to extend a little bit on where we are, because there has been some investigation in the 28 frameworks, which are very close or are meant to be frameworks for business architects. From this it resulted that none of these really had a complete holistic approach, as the role is identified currently, or at least how the needs have been identified in the marketplace.

Some have gaps

Some are quite close, but quite a few have gaps in one of the areas that should be touched, like strategy, operations, processes, or technology. We currently try to identify and fill that gap. That’s one point.

The other one is that most of the techniques used by the business architect are very well- embedded in academic research and are often and sometimes already used by different roles as well.

I’m thinking of things like the systems approach, and the systems thinkers have quite a few techniques. There are also techniques developed by IBM, HP, and Capgemini on the business architecture, which are well-versed and well-embedded in academic research of the past 20, 30 years. So, it’s not just a set of techniques that are built together. These are really based on insights which we have gained over several decades.

Gardner: Very good. I understand that many of these resources and the ability to take part in some of these working groups are all available on the newly redesigned Open Group website. That would be opengroup.org online and easily found from search.

I want to close up by thanking our guests. We’ve been discussing the burgeoning role of, and the opportunity for, business architecture and its practitioners in a dynamic global business environment.

This podcast is coming to you as a sponsored activity in conjunction with The Open Group Conference in Austin, Texas, the week of July 18, 2011.

So thanks to our guests. We’ve been joined by Harry Hendrickx, Chief Technology Officer, CME Industry Unit in HP’s Enterprise Services, and also a Certified Global Enterprise Architect. Thank you, Harry.

Hendrickx: Thank you, Dana.

Gardner: And also Dave van Gelder, Global Architect in the Financial Services Strategic Business unit at Capgemini. Thank you, Dave.

van Gelder: Thank you, Dana.

Gardner: We’re also here with Mieke Mahakena. She is the Label Leader for Architecture in the Training Portfolio at Capgemini Academy, and also a Certified Architect. Thank you, Mieke.

Mahakena: You are welcome, Dana.

Gardner: Peter Haviland, Head of the Architecture Services for Americas at Ernst & Young has also joined us. Thank you, Peter.

Haviland: Thanks, Dana. Thanks everyone.

Gardner: And lastly, Kevin Daley, Chief Architect in the Technology and Innovation Group at IBM Global Business Services. Thanks so much, Kevin.

Daley: Thank you, Dana. Again, thanks to everyone else also.

Gardner: This is Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions. Thanks again for listening, and come back next time.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes/iPod and Podcast.com.

Copyright The Open Group 2011. All rights reserved.

Dana Gardner is the Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions, which identifies and interprets the trends in Services-Oriented Architecture (SOA) and enterprise software infrastructure markets. Interarbor Solutions creates in-depth Web content and distributes it via BriefingsDirect™ blogs, podcasts and video-podcasts to support conversational education about SOA, software infrastructure, Enterprise 2.0, and application development and deployment strategies.

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