IT Evolution: Then and now

Since the 1980s, IT departments were only seen as enabling worker productivity, and making sure everything from emails to the Internet to our PCs run smoothly. This was still the computerisation or automation era, and projects were tech-focused; every time there was a new application, new hardware and software were purchased while time, resources and budgets were also fixed and allocated before IT could ask the business what were the goals it wanted to achieve.

This massive disconnect between IT and business, saw over 60-percent of IT projects not meeting business objectives. IT also began to gain a reputation as a cost centre, because up to 90-percent of IT budgets went into maintaining these expensive IT systems; over the years, each application had acquired its own system of hardware and software, and each of these systems connected to hundreds if not thousands of business users, so there was application flow in every direction that you can imagine.

Nobody kept track or had control of this hairball network of dependencies that was created over time, and IT also began to gain a reputation of being a hindrance to the business – it’s impossible to upgrade or change applications, because it could potentially affect the whole IT environment and impact business continuity.

Such is the complexity of legacy architectures – it was very difficult and costly to maintain, there was absence of visibility and no traceability of each IT resource in the organisation, all of which led to absence of agility and responsiveness to requirements of the business!

As a result, shadow IT began to emerge to troubleshoot and acquire their own tech solutions like  cloud storage, social media apps, cloud applications and so on, because the business had to move faster to keep up with the times. Business could not wait for IT, anymore.

Sad to say, all these ad-hoc efforts worsen the hairball architecture effect and show no signs of dissipating despite more and more businesses wanting to transform into Digital Enterprises.


Digital transformation force

Today, more and more businesses are waking up to the fact they need a Digital Strategy to remain relevant when serving their customers and audience.

All these expectations for digital planning, digital strategising, digital tools, digital services, digital deployments, and the cherry on top of the cake – Digital Transformation; once again, by default falls upon the shoulders of the CIO and his IT organisation.

The idea that Digital Transformation is an IT initiative couldn’t be further from the truth. Digital Transformation is a business-driven initiative and technology is there only to facilitate business goals.

Businesses need to be able to harness the transformative force of Digital Transformation to remain competitive in today’s digital business arena. With this reality and the higher-than-ever-before expectation that business places upon IT, what can enterprise IT do differently this time?

One thing is for sure – those bygone practices of setting budgets and timelines for IT projects, do not work anymore. Doing this only leads to the garbage-in and garbage-out effect: business requirements that are not properly captured will lead to IT projects that do not deliver value and wastage!

We need to stop IT functioning as the “Enterprise Fire Brigade” that puts out “fires” aka problems, and instead for IT to become the most strategic advantage that brings transformative digital capabilities and benefits to the enterprise.

What that needs to happen is the creation of a Digital Enterprise Architecture Map that enables troubleshooting with full traceability from the Business Layer to the Technology Layer and vice versa. The whole process of Enterprise Architecture itself will identify areas of value creation and efficiency gains for the business.

This is one of the tasks of the Digital Enterprise Architect – to bring IT value to the business. This has to be the effort of a group of Architects within an Enterprise Architecture Office (EAO), working together.

And in fact, the missing function in every enterprise and government agency to be able to survive today’s digital age is the Enterprise Architecture Office (EAO). The EAO has the important role of providing input to the Programme/Project Management Office (PMO) that would ideally lead to successful IT project implementations as part of the enterprise’s digitalisation efforts.

In my opinion, these days the EAO must be staffed by qualified and competent enterprise architects in the domain specialisations of Business Architecture, Information Architecture, Software Architecture, Infrastructure Architecture and Solution Architecture.


Transforming into a profit centre

By now, it is very obvious that we need IT to move away from its reputation as a cost centre. This reputation does it more harm than good, and IT is usually the first to “suffer” with a drastic budget cut during low economic times while still also being expected to “Do More with Less!”

By having qualified Enterprise Architects under the EAO, this perception of IT will change to Profit Centre instead. The fact is, there have been many examples of innovative business models that are enabled by Information Technology. And these innovative business models are disrupting their respective industries and forcing more established businesses to rethink how they themselves are using technology.

Clearly, IT is generating real business value while impacting other businesses to the point it has become necessary for them react. Of course, many will ask How to turn IT into and run it as a profit centre like any other established business function ie. Sales, Product, Marketing etc.

The answer to this question lies in the ability of the Enterprise Architecture Office to demonstrate the real business value of any IT investments, using relevant frameworks, notations and methodologies during the Enterprise Architecture development processes.

Fortunately, enabling new and innovative business models for your organisation does not have to mean forking out more money. What businesses need to do is to get better at identifying areas of efficiency gains and optimising their existing IT resources.

An Enterprise Architect can map a journey your organisation has to take, to go from where it currently is, to the future state it needs to be at – agile, efficient, productive and growing in enterprise maturity while delivering more business value through strategically planned IT investments.

Why we need Enterprise Architects especially today

An Enterprise Architect maps out the enterprise design and blueprint towards realising business value, and at any point in time if trouble and issues arise, the enterprise architect can use the Digital Enterprise Architecture Map to trace the issue back to the cause of it, take steps to adjust, and have visibility into the effects of that adjustment.

Simply put, to remain relevant and competitive especially now during this wondrous digital times of opportunity and challenges, organisations need to adopt Enterprise Architecture as “digital cultures” of their very own, so that they can do continuous and strategic Digital Transformation.

That’s a job for the Enterprise Architect and the purpose of the Enterprise Architecture Office in any business today.


About the Author: Aaron Tan Dani is a thought-leader in Digital EA and he is also actively driving Digital EA adoption and currently he is the Chairman of EA-SIG, Singapore Computer Society, Chairman of Iasa Asia Pacific and Chief Architect of ATD Solution