The trouble with strategic transformation in the enterprise, and managing the IT projects that support that transformation, is modeling all the moving parts of a company. For instance, how will a new data center affect the company's bottom line?
"Transformation is more or less an abstract notion," said Henry Peyret, senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. "It is easy to represent the as-is and the to-be. But scenarios, assumptions, are far more abstract. Business transformation existed for a long time within enterprises. But it accelerated and the business changes are so big that no one wants to take any risks. So the decision makers want to minimize risks. The pressure in terms of ensuring results and flexibility dramatically increase in ways which cannot permit any error."
Enterprise architects think about these kinds of issues all day long. And enterprise architecture (EA) software helps them create repositories of information that allow them to understand how the different resources of a company fit together today and how they might fit together a year from now. But EA software has traditionally struggled to model change, to build scenarios, or paths, that can show exactly how to reach that future state the business strategist is seeking.
A multi-state view
Greta James, research vice president at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., said modeling transformation wouldn't be so hard if you could constantly refresh your knowledge of every aspect of your enterprise. For instance, a company might have an excellent model of how it works today and it might have an excellent model of how it wants to look within a year. But once it starts moving towards that goal, things start to shift.
Not surprisingly, EA vendors are beginning to push out new tools that allow architects to manage change more efficiently. Troux Technologies Inc. in Austin, Texas, for example, recently announced a new module called Troux Initiatives as part of its flagship product, Troux 7.
Initiatives offers an enterprise a multi-state view of its organization. It shows how the enterprise looks today, and how it will look once it completes the transformation it's trying to achieve. But unlike many other EA platforms, Troux Initiatives also offers various paths an organization can take to achieve a goal.
"It's really one of the first tools that allows you to do a multi-state view," said Tannia Dobbins, senior enterprise architect at Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Advanced Micro Devices Inc., a Troux customer that worked as a design partner on the Initiatives module. "That's been really important. Every tool I've seen in the past didn't deal with states very well. You have a baseline state and a future state. The Initiatives approach allows you to say 'Here I am today, and I have two paths or N number of paths I can take,' and each one of those paths represents a future state."
James explained, "The real danger in implementing business strategy is that you haven't effectively planned and modeled different models of that business strategy. You might make a suboptimal choice. Do we expand into China or Eastern Europe?"
She said Troux's product will allow you to model the China and Eastern Europe scenarios in terms of IT projects, business processes and other resources.
Break it down, build it up
James said enterprise architects approach a business strategy in a stepwise fashion: They break it down to a current state and a future state of the company. Then they look at what the gap is between those two states.
"They look at it in terms of what business processes they need to implement to support the business strategy," James said. "Then they break down into various business process models, what applications support those business processes, what information flows through those business processes. A tool like Troux gives you the ability to represent what goes on in an enterprise. You are able to visualize that system and understand all the relationships between various elements in that system. If the server is upgraded, what applications are on that server. What applications are going to benefit from that. From those applications that benefit, what business processes are going to be speeded up. And how are those business processes going to contribute to the business strategy. That's what it allows you to visualize.
"Let's say you've got an upgrade from a major application vendor, SAP," James said. "In some geographical areas of a multinational organization, for various reasons, you don't want to upgrade at this point. This would allow you to plan for those different configurations in different geographies, to understand what server upgrades you need to make to support the upgrade to the application. But, upstream, it will also help model how it might speed up a business process and how those business processes might work to further the business strategy. The consequences of not doing that [are] you might miss something. You might miss the fact that you need to upgrade a server in a specific location."
All of this information, all of these plans for transformation and the resources touched by that transformation, is stored in a repository that actively tracks the state of the company. This has advantages over a strategic change that's mapped out in something static like a Word document or an Excel spreadsheet.
"In my past, working for another client, we had Word templates," Dobbins said. "We said, 'Here's our current-state template and here's our future-state template.' OK, that's nice. But it's all in Word documents."
A Word document doesn't keep track of how the company changes while a project is proceeding. For instance, a major enterprise application upgrade can take more than a year. A lot of things can happen to a company in that time, but the Word document won't capture it. What if some of the servers you planned to use in an overseas data center get co-opted by another project?
"The current state keeps changing underneath [the project]," Dobbins said. "So I'm trudging along on one path. The product migration takes 18 months. Well, the current state is changing underneath you. So the benefit you get [from Troux], is not only understanding your current state and how it relates to your project, but what other activities are going on underneath that could compromise the project. You can go along that way, set up alarms if anything changes in your server pool or your infrastructure. You get alerts along the way. It helps you be aware of all the things you had as assumptions along the way in a way you could never capture in a project plan or a Word document."
On the EA vendor couch
Peyret said several other EA vendors are helping enterprises with transformational problems. He said IDS Scheer AG's Aris platform has focused on business process transformation for a long time, but it's only process-oriented. He said other EA vendors such as Adaptive Inc. have focused for a long time on collecting IT systems information for managing changes at an IT level. But he said many of these EA vendors have failed to tackle the time dimension, and how time allows for changes that are not easily tracked by EA repositories.
"These products are dedicated to change and combine features between EA modeling, project portfolio management and the best products include also roadmapping capabilities," Peyret said.
James said, "A small number of vendors have provided what they often call scenarios. What it allows you to do is link a whole bunch of stuff in a repository and say they're associated somehow. You might say all these models, servers, applications and business processes represent today. Then you create a new bunch with some of the old stuff. This represents what we're going to have in six months. So that does to some degree what Troux is doing. But it doesn't do it in such an elegant way and in a way that would facilitate the planning."
Let us know what you think about the story; email: Shamus McGillicuddy, News Writer