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The Enterprise

  • August 01 2004, 1:00am EDT

Over the next two months, I will review why enterprise architecture and associated methods provide great assistance for business transformation enablement. Our systems development methods must be able to support rapid business change, which they cannot achieve today. We need to change our systems development methods to focus on strategic plans set for the future.

The most critical issue facing government, defense and commercial enterprises today is the rapid pace of change in almost every industry. With the rate of technological change increasing, together with today's budget and competitive pressures, enterprises must be able to change rapidly - often just to survive, let alone succeed.

The need for transformation from today's inflexible business environment to an agile enterprise that can change direction rapidly has never been greater. Yet the structures, processes and systems that we have today are inflexible; they are incapable of rapid change. More computer hardware, or software, or packages, or staff or outsourcing are not the solution. They are part of the problem.

The solution requires business transformation enablement. It needs methods for rapid business change - with systems that also change in lockstep. This is not a computer problem. It is a business problem. It needs strategic direction from senior management and strategic planners, with these directions then translated into rapid action by business experts working with IT experts.

Business transformation enablement requires that senior managers, together with their planners, business managers, business experts and IT staff, to work together to transform an enterprise - as each group has its specific expertise to contribute.

The methods to achieve this are being successfully applied by many enterprises today. However, the methods require new thinking. The tried and true ways no longer work. We need new ways to make the required business transformations.

Our current systems development methods have served us well in developing operational information systems in the period of managed change that we had until the '90s; but now the pace of change is much, much faster than we ever anticipated when those systems and warehouses were first built.

Historically, these systems have been difficult to change. The systems and databases that we built in the early years of the information age to enable our organizations to be more responsive to change are now monolithic and resistant to change. Today, they inhibit the ability of our organizations to change rapidly in order to compete - and sometimes even to survive. We are chained to inflexible systems that can no longer respond to the rapid change environment of today -- let alone the even greater change environment that we will soon experience.

We need to build more flexible systems for the future that can change easily, rapidly and often. To achieve this, the systems development methods that we use should take a different focus for the future. They must be able to identify potential future changes early. We must also build systems and databases differently so that they can be changed rapidly to support vital business changes. These changes must be capable of being made within weeks, even days - not in years as is the case today.

In recent columns, I discussed systems development strategies for 21st century enterprises. We saw that business needs have been decided by reviewing the operational processes of the business. These processes were typically determined based on strategic plans defined many years ago, sometimes even a decade ago. However, in the early '90s we had no idea - not even in our wildest predictions of the future - that we would today be able to communicate instantly with customers, suppliers and business partners anywhere in the world through the Internet. The environment that we accept today as the norm was way beyond our most fanciful imagination.

The strategic plans defined in the '90s did not anticipate that these organizations would today communicate with each other in seconds. They assumed communication would be as it had always been, by mail - or later by fax - with responses received days or weeks later. The most rapid response these business processes assumed was at best in hours. The operational business processes we still use today were never designed to respond in seconds.

Competition today demands systems that can change easily to support rapid business change. Many of these business changes may need significant change or redevelopment of systems. Yet most of those systems were not designed for change. Existing systems may need massive modification to support essential business changes. Often it is faster to throw existing systems away and start over by developing new systems from scratch, but this is still slow and very costly.

The advantages and benefits of technology were not clear to many senior managers in the early '90s. It was sometimes difficult to obtain funding approval for new projects and funding for the resources that are vital for success. However, the Internet and the Y2K problem in the late '90s both demonstrated to management the dramatic impact - both positive and negative - that technology can have on the enterprise.

Businesses must change to compete with other organizations in their relevant markets. This is true for commercial organizations that compete with other organizations as well as government departments that compete with other departments for government budget funding. It is also true for defense, which competes with hostile defense forces and with friendly defense forces for limited resources.

In next month's column, I will discuss how enterprise architecture can be used as a catalyst for business transformation enablement.

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