Over time, differences emerge in the effectiveness of IT systems across organisations. The best are able to use IT to create competitive advantage. They frequently share the same characteristics, namely:
- Low rates of systems unavailability (less than 0.1% unplanned downtime)
- High process coverage (i.e. fewer manual processes)
- Lower costs to deliver the same IT functionality
- Faster times to market for new IT-based services and solutions
This position will typically be enjoyed by the top 10% or fewer of organisations.
At the other end of the scale are companies for which none of the above is true. By contrast, their systems
- Fail often
- Their processes have large manual components
- They may spend less on IT in total, but they spend more for the same IT functionality
- IT Projects, are long-winded and expensive, with high failure rates
Over time the gap between the best and the worst opens further, with good IT systems seeing a positive 'compounding' effect. Bad IT systems seeing the reverse.
In our experience we see strong evidence linking the state of an organisations Enterprise Architecture, with the effectiveness of their IT systems.
An Enterprise Architecture View
Large, complex organisations have complex IT systems. This manifests at one end of the scale with multiple systems, which create complexity when operating as a whole - or single large systems which are inherently complex. Either way the complexity of the organisation is reflected in the underlying systems. This isn't a bad thing, it's just the reality.
Likewise, the Enterprise Architecture of the organisation manifests as either 'deliberate' or 'de facto'. Every organisation has an IT Enterprise Architecture - but in some organisations it determines every systems decision in the context of the whole, in the other single, system selections build up over time and become the Enterprise Architecture. Organisations will lie at various points along the continuum from one to the other.
Organisations with a 'deliberate' architecture will outperform those with a 'de facto' architecture - with the difference in performance being exponential as the complexity grows.
'Growing' the Enterprise Architecture
My view is that the Enterprise Architecture piece must be deliberately put in place. First, unpicking the complexity within and between systems that has led to the current levels of instability and inconsistency. Secondly designing a future state Enterprise Architecture that the IT estate can progressively be migrated to, with short term tactics to stabilise, and long term thinking being brought to bear on new systems and new integrations.
Einstein is credited with observing that "we cannot solve our problems with the same thinking we used when we created them.". Organisations develop patterns of thinking and systems which either work for them, or are the cause of the problems they are facing. If the latter is true, the only way forward is to introduce new thinking - whether that's existing people with new thinking, or new people with new thinking.
As obvious as it may seem, for things to change, things must change!