IT’s Role in Organizational Design

Enterprise architecture(EA), as a specific discipline, dates back to the late 80‘s. However, it has been very difficult for EA programs to gain much traction. Very often, the architecture program simply becomes focused on creating as-builts of existing applications and infrastructure. Indeed, unless you are starting a completely new endeavor, some amount of retrospective work will become necessary. Prospectively, EA programs fall by the wayside. My own experience with an enterprise architecture program supports that. I engaged with the group as I thought the modeling tools might be useful. It never occurred to me that the architecture group might be of use in engineering new systems.

So, EA groups need to prepare and market themselves internally as resources to help facilitate new information systems engineering efforts. That would be a start, but it will not be enough. Two other things are necessary. The first is that the CIO needs to mandate that the architecture group isn’t simply a resource. Their tools and methodology must be the only path to travel. I’ll explore this topic in more detail down the road, as I prepare for a course I will be teaching early next year. The other thing needed is a significant change in the perspective of the typical CEO. Many CEOs look at IT as simply a provider of widgets, and as the group that makes sure computers are on desks and that email is on. That is a fundamentally flawed perspective.

As I sit here typing this on my iPad, and with an iPhone in my pocket, I’m led to reflect on the degree to which information technology has become ingrained in our daily lives. My devices help me find where I’m going, track my nutrition and exercise, allow me to communicate with others in a variety of ways, and help me stay plugged in to what is happening in the world. The devices have become integrated into my life. They improve it, and, yes, sometimes detract from it. But either way it has become integrated. Engineers and app developers all think about life processes and how IT might make them better. More and more frequently they re-imagine the processes themselves.

The modern CEO needs to take this perspective and expect their IT function to engage at the level of the business processes. Not only enhancing them, but even rethinking them. There are two different models that come to mind to effect this. One is an organization where IT is centralized. All information systems are built and managed by this group and they provide resources for business design to each line function. The other is a more distributed design, where IT is responsible for processes and standards, but execution is embedded within individual business units. I will explore both of these models in the future, but in either one we see that IT is not primarily a technology implementer, they are a business process designer. Failing to make this philosophical change will always limit the possibilities for an organization. The CEO shouldn’t just visit his head of IT when his phone is no longer receiving email. He should visit him every time he is pondering the way his organization runs.