If You Build It (Right), IT Will Work

If You Build It (Right), IT Will Work

Ideas and Insights from the CIO Executive Council.

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 $US2 billion to $US9 billion in three years through acquisition. We had a complex environment, a bigger portfolio of applications, and we needed to focus on simplification," says Rapken.

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 Labour 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 state-wide EA initiatives with their own budgets and architects, Ridout had to get their buy-in. She encouraged them to think about what made sense state-wide 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, 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 corporate-wide 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.

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