By Gabriel Morgan

Here’s a question that we all face: What are the challenges and the opportunities in getting your EA organization to partner better with vendors? What are the thresholds for to ensure that that partnership is beneficial to both sides?

Traditionally, the vendor to customer relationship has been at best a slightly back and forth affair, with a fair amount of negotiation.  At worst, it’s about outright competition and difficulty. As the IT world moves to a more integrated cloud-based, service-based environment, where the boundaries between client and vendor can blur, how do we build a strong technology and service supply chain that can be governed effectively and provide the opportunity for strategic innovation?

To succeed here, we need to get our guiding principles by leveraging techniques from business management. In this case, the concept of “Cascading Strategy” is particularly important. In the context of strategic planning, cloud providers, service providers, outsourcing providers, etc. are all the same things: They’re suppliers. The trick is to describe our business’ success, then cascade to the suppliers their accountability to achieving our success.

Let’s say Organization A is being supported by Organization B, whether that’s internal or external doesn’t matter. What’s important is that the discipline of strategic planning exists to keep the two organizations continuously aligned. Cascading down one’s strategy is to share accountability for the strategy that stands for both the internal and external organizations.

I’ll give you a case in point that comes from my work. At REI, we use a lot of Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) providers for our systems. We have Service Level Agreements (SLAs) built with Key Performance Indicator (KPI) Targets describing desired performance. We cascade our KPI Targets to our SaaS providers to hold them contractually to business performance we accept as our success measure. Although this requires transparency and discipline to make sure that everyone is in line, it’s really just that simple.

Even my own Enterprise Architecture team is run like that. I’m very transparent. When I work with different partners and suppliers to help support our architecture efforts such as architect recruiting agencies, training and certification organizations, or architect communities such as IASA, I start the conversation with, “Here is my scorecard. It describes what success looks like for the architecture function.” For me to engage in a professional relationship with you, I ask the Partner/Supplier to inherit my objectives and KPIs so that they take accountability and responsibility for my success.

By the way, this isn’t a new concept, it’s just applying strategic planning concepts largely taken from the balanced scorecard methodology. It’s a really powerful tool to gain alignment across the organizations, inclusive of interacting with partners and suppliers of REI.

Gabriel is responsible for managing a team of Enterprise Architects at Recreation Equipment, Inc. (REI) As an Executive-level Architect and Planner with18+ years of experience, Mr Morgan has developed a vibrant Architectural community within REI focused on raising the bar on architectural quality across the organization.