Too often, CIOs find it impossible to determine the answers to questions such as What projects do I have running now? Which projects can I kill without adversely impacting my strategic route? or Where do I risk providing IT support for business that is based on obsolete technologies, skill sets? Thats where IT planning comes in.
IT planning supports effective and consistent decision-making about how IT should be deployed and managed. It provides support for effective decisions and ensures that decision-making is performed in a consistent way by suggesting a framework, methodology or process.
ERP versus IT Planning
Enterprise resource planning brings together the relevant people, processes, tools and information to create an information-based, process-centric information platform on which to base decisions. It stipulates a uniform methodology that is shared across stakeholders this is key to collaboration and enablement of decision-making. No large company today would be able to compete without a strong ERP system that drives and integrates business processes, building and maintaining a high quality information base for making business decisions. IT planning requires the same approach: a centralized information base is fed by integrated processes, updated with every plan made and every decision made. This allows for accurate information to be provided to stakeholders at the time of decision-making.
Balancing Four Aspects Across the Planning Process
Four aspects of the enterprise determine what IT will be implemented and thus need to be balanced across the planning process: strategy and demands, enterprise architecture, program portfolio and cost and budgets. These four aspects need to be balanced across the planning process.
Demand and strategy. Demands and strategy provide direction for IT. By linking business goals with IT, which is needed to support them, ITs mandate becomes clear. Identifying and managing this relationship is critical for being able to make the right decisions on what changes need to be made to the IT landscape to drive business improvements.
Enterprise architecture. IT planning has to be architecture-based because it is the enterprise architecture that delivers the building plans for IT which artifacts will be used, what is their purpose and how they relate to each other. Enterprise architecture is necessary for understanding the intrinsic dependency of the IT/business relationship, for example, the depen¬dency between business capabilities and services. Additionally, the enterprise architecture is at a level of abstraction that is suitable for planning too much detail, for example, at the level of project planning, only makes the planning process unnecessarily complex and slow.
Program portfolio. The program portfolio delivers the plan of action for IT. Key to the effectiveness of program portfolio management is the seamless integration with enterprise architecture management (EAM) processes so that architectural risk is minimized and opportunities to migrate, enhance or retire current applications or other IT artifacts are not ignored.
Cost and budgets. Costs and budgets provide the range in which IT change needs to be carried out. Cost management needs to be conducted with an awareness of the enterprise architecture and project portfolio. In doing so, it allow enterprises to map their budget to value-producing IT components and transformational initiatives.
Key planning activities can be broken down into basically three main process categories strategy management, EAM and IT planning.
Strategy management works under the premise that understanding business strategy is the key to an aligned IT. Primary activities include operationalizing the business strategy. Strategic intentions of the enterprise are typically defined at very high levels of abstraction. They are not readily relatable to the discussions and activities in the enterprise architecture.
Yet architectural considerations are an important part of any strategic transformational program. Enterprise architectures role has expanded from defining technology standards to include planning for business applications and services. As such, it is important to establish a framework and process that allow IT to work with the business to define business goals and requirements in a way that removes any room for interpretation.
Such a framework supports:
- Definition of business strategy down to a level that can be translated into specific changes to the enterprise architecture in general and the business architecture in particular, thus ensuring business validity of enterprise architecture actions;
- The ability to link to business capabilities at a business function level;
- Bottom-up definition of ITs own strategic plan;
- Governance and management processes in business and IT; and
- The project portfolio review process by providing a more precise business context.
Ensuring Capabilities Exist
To be confident in the enterprises ability to achieve its business strategy, organizations need to ensure that necessary capabilities exist and are in the required quality. Many organizations use business capability management to assess this. Business capabilities prescribe a view of the enterprise, based on business activities, which are independent of specific business processes and organizational silos. An enterprise can use them to identify which business activities are critical to enterprise success and which need improvement most urgently. With the capability approach, the traditional IT management focuses on services/process, information and communication technologies architecture and operations are extended to a superordinate capability layer that enables two key abilities.
First, the capability layer helps to articulate and document business needs in a structured way that is meaningful for the business. Second, the concept of a capability can easily be translated into IT functionality. Business capabilities are the missing link for enabling a business-related view onto IT functionality. They promote better understanding between business and IT by enabling the business to formulate their requirements in a nontechnical yet functionally precise way.
Steering Project Assessment, Portfolio Decision-Making
The gap analysis on the basis of the business capability assessment can now be turned into ITs own strategic plan to steer project assessment and portfolio decision-making. The IT master plan is the ideal tool for this, describing the tactical plan to achieve the IT strategy, starting from the IT planning baseline and focusing everyone on one common plan of action. It defines the incremental steps or milestones bridging from the as-is landscape to the target landscape defined in the IT strategy. Each step is associated with prospective-realization time periods and approval statuses.
The master plan is derived from the central IT planning/enterprise architecture inventory and feeds back into the inventory when changes occur. It is thus able to represent the IT landscape at any point in time. The master plan is a highly condensed representation of the strategic plan and is an easy-to-comprehend, single point of reference, hence an excellent medium for discussion at decision boards. A business capability map shows gaps in required and actual strength of business activities.
Impact analysis. An important element in implementing the technology strategy is understanding the impact of proposed changes early on so as to avoid surprises halfway through an implementation. This improves predictability and reliability in the overall IT plan and also serves to control risk.
Assessing risks. Analyzing for cost inefficiencies, architectural risk, noncompliance and the general health status of the IT landscape is necessary to ensure that IT can deliver and improve on its support for business initiatives. Assessing the risk entailed in the enterprise architecture is a key element of the IT management process. The analysis of the applications that support certain business processes is an important feed for the overall risk assessment. Targeted portfolio analysis gives users quick insight into the risk exposure of applications and allows them to initiate mitigation appropriately.
Lifecycle planning. In IT, standards are set in order to ensure that the IT landscape makes continual progress toward the enterprise architectural vision and is in step with new technologies. The enterprise architect continually searches for opportunities to streamline processes across federated environments by defining standard components and preconfiguring these into standard platforms to be used as the base platform for individual projects. Continual research of the existing environment for upgrade potential is necessary to rid IT of outdated, inefficient technologies. Coordinating the many roadmaps in a large organization is also a challenge as demands for technology changes are submitted - whether originating from strategy operationalization, business capability gap analysis or those coming in on an operational basis.
Process-based IT planning leads to defensible investment decisions. And this is where the strength of an IT planning solution becomes obvious in its ability to capture and deliver all relevant information on several solution planning projects in a real-time manner. In a demand-to-budget process, all demands and projects are thoroughly evaluated as to their support for IT and business strategy, architectural viability, business case, implementation effort, technology and architecture risks, overlap with other initiatives and impact.
Demand consolidation. The business analyst can see demands from all areas of the enterprise and assess these as to redundancy or possible synergy with each other. Also demands are analyzed for their compliance with business goals and strategies and their possible impact to the architecture (current and future).
Architectural due diligence. Those demands worthy of further consideration go on to the next step in the process, which is creating alternative solution architectures, taking into account defined standards and impact to the current and future architectures. As in demand consolidation, with information on other planning projects and their planned or envisioned artifacts (or retirement of an artifact), solution architects can be confident that the solutions they are proposing are based on current and reliable information on the state of the architecture at the time of implementation.
Selection and monitoring. With business cases and resource estimates as part of the proposals, projects are now ready to be evaluated in the context of the rest of the portfolio. Projects are prioritized and budgets allocated for IT investment. Prioritization is based not only on financial metrics but also on strategy alignment, viability of the proposed architecture and architectural and implementation risk. During this whole process the data arising out of the demand-to-budget process will be committed to the inventory for everyone else involved in planning in their enterprise domain to see and be aware of. Most importantly, the data committed to the inventory is associated in its different planned states (envisioned, planned or operational) to certain points in time.
IT planning takes place in a rapidly changing business environment and involves an overwhelming volume of data many thousands of artifacts in multiple locations. Complex interdependencies between distributed specialists, critical business processes, IT support services and the underlying technical infrastructure can be significantly disrupted by isolated actions and incidents.
Though most business managers inherently know that well-orchestrated teams can have a dramatic impact on the success of a business, organizations often struggle to create and execute the IT plan because this work involves tight co-ordination of decision-makers with diverse interests, budgets and reporting lines, especially between the IT organization and business divisions. Given the complexity, collaboration is a necessity to ensure transparency and accelerated productivity in project planning cycles. Thus, integrated IT planning is only possible with a platform that supports collaboration among stakeholders.
CIOs dont need to be left speechless when asked in-depth questions about their IT operations. By employing best-practice IT planning techniques they can make effective and consistent decisions about how IT should be deployed and managed in their enterprises.
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