Drawing up a sound IT blueprint

Take off your CIO hat for a moment and imagine you’re in charge of building a new housing development. The first thing you’d do is hire an architectural firm to create a master plan. Then you’d bring in the builders. They’d take the blueprint and build your development, hewing to the architectural vision. Now, put your CIO hat back on. This analogy, offered by Michael Rapken, CIO of transportation company YRC Worldwide, is worth internalizing as you construct your IT department today.

Enterprise architecture (EA) has been one of the most common research requests the CIO Executive Council staff has fielded this year from member CIOs. Many of the questions concern the EA group itself: how to create it, structure it and staff it. EA groups generally function as standards setters, review boards and proactive visionaries. Council members offered these four tips to ensure that an EA team will pay dividends for CIOs.

1. Respond to a real business need. For Rapken, acquisitions and extreme growth necessitated the creation of an EA group. “We grew from US$2 billion to $9 billion in three years through acquisition. We had a complex environment, a bigger portfolio of applications, and we needed to focus on simplification,” he says.

Mergers and acquisitions also play a role in the need for EA teams. “After the merger with Texaco, we moved from operating in country-by-country silos to being a globally integrated company. An EA group is a key ingredient to making this transition successful,” says Louis Ehrlich, VP of services and strategy and CIO of Global Downstream at Chevron.

Christy Ridout, CIO at the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries, helped create an EA strategy at the state level in 2003. Confusion was rampant among the state’s agencies about what services should be provided centrally and what the agencies should pursue. Ridout and her colleagues thought an EA program would help provide a structured framework to answer these questions.

2. Sponsorship is key. Since agency CIOs staff statewide EA initiatives with their own budgets and architects, Ridout had to get their buy-in. She encouraged them to think about what made sense statewide rather than simply for their own agency. Multiple CIOs also had to sponsor Chevron’s EA strategy – the corporate CIO sponsored the enterprise team while the functional CIOs, like Ehrlich, gave their enterprise-level support and focused on creating their own EA groups in addition to the central EA team.

3. One size doesn’t fit all. There are many ways to organize an EA group, and CIOs can experiment with different models to find the best one.

Virtual teams. Helen Polatajko, CIO at CIBC Mellon, Toronto, says the small size of her IT group (120 staff) is the main reason she kept her architects decentralized in a virtual EA team. “I have four architects – applications, infrastructure, security and desktop – who still report in to their lines of business. But to ensure that there’s collaboration and to push the IT strategy forward, they come together to look at architecture at the enterprise level,” explains Polatajko. There’s no chief architect, although Polatajko and two other VPs from IT join in EA discussions to lend insight.

Brent Stahlheber, CIO at The Auto Club Group, has shifted from a centralized group to a virtual one. “What I was seeing when I had the centralized EA group was a disconnect between my architects and the business,” he says. By placing the architects back into the application development and infrastructure support areas, Stahlheber anticipates that they will be better in tune with the business.

Federated model. John Bloom, chief architect for Chevron’s corporate IT, and his team of 12 serve as an EA centre of expertise for Chevron’s lines of business and head up corporatewide architecture initiatives. Ehrlich has his own EA team of eight providing support for Global Downstream, and he doesn’t hesitate to call upon Bloom’s staff for guidance. This model has been in place for two years.

Hybrid of centralization and functional level. When he began in 2005, Rapken of YRC Worldwide opted for a hybrid model. It includes a centralized EA team of 20 to 30 who work with architects as well as people from the various operating companies. He chose one of his VPs to lead the new EA team. “I wanted to avoid the ivory tower syndrome where architects are viewed purely as picture-drawers without a clue when it comes to projects,” says Rapken. With the centralized team working closely with the line architects, they can ensure that what they design gets built correctly.

4. Look outside IT. Participation and support from outside of IT is important for credibility and buy-in, as well as for maintaining alignment. “If the architecture team is pushing a specific philosophy, disregarding business value, business leaders will dismiss them, says Vince Kellen, VP of IS at DePaul University. The goal of the EA team should always be to add value to the business. Building strong relationships and teaching others about the importance of an enterprise approach goes a long way.

Creating the IT strategic Plan

In the first half of 2006, IT strategic planning and strategy was the root subject of more peer-to-peer consultations among the 400 members of the CIO Executive Council than any other topic except governance. At face value, a strategic plan is a simple thing: a document that enables the entire department – and the enterprise – to see what projects are planned and what goals the IT department has set to enable business objectives. But the process of creating one can be long and arduous, and it cannot be done in a vacuum; business input and guidance are essential.

Members of the CIO Executive Council offer tips on how to make strategic planning pay off, from ownership of the process, to interaction with the business, to communicating the plan.

Identify owners The short answer to who owns IT strategy is “Everyone in your IT department.” But if everyone contributed their own objectives and strategic goals, the plan would be unwieldy and lack focus. Jackie Barretta, CIO at Con-Way, designated her 15-member enterprise architecture group as the ultimate owners of the strategic planning process. This was a no-brainer since the role of the EA group is to work closely with the business, stay up to speed on emerging technologies and make the linkage between technology and the business.

At Cardinal Health, there is a dedicated pair of individuals overseeing the strategic planning process in IT. This duo then recruits other participants to the process, depending on what they are working on. “For example, a larger team might work for a few months on a set of strategies and during this process give 50-80 percent of their time to strategic planning. When we are finished, they go back to their everyday responsibilities and my strategic planning team recruits a different group,” says Tom Perrine, who manages the strategic planning process as Cardinal’s senior vice president of IT.

Get business input into the IT strategic plan
Formal workgroups and planning sessions are good venues to elicit business colleagues’ input for the IT strategic plan. Ironically, the business folk want to talk about technology in these meetings, and CIOs want to discourage that. Says David Wagner of ON Semiconductor, “In my meetings, I try to get the business side focused on what outcome they are trying to achieve so we can spend our energy thinking about possible solutions. I don’t need to hear about a new technology system they just read about. I just need to know they are trying respond to pricing pressure better than our competitors. Then we can start figuring out the best response.” This process lasts 2

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