Designing and running IT systems for a large global company has always meant managing an incredibly complex system.
Understandably, IT managers have honed their skills in working with the line to predict business needs and then spending money and time wisely to have the right infrastructure in place to meet those needs; whether it be launching in a new market, implementing a new technology, or one of many other areas where IT can help its firm find a competitive advantage.
Digitization and Comfort with Technology
In a time (not so long ago) when IT was so complex and unwieldy that it needed specially-trained professionals to source, build, and run almost every aspect of it, and when line managers had scant understanding (or will to understand) which technology would suit their activities best, making a plan based on long-term business goals was a good one.
That has all changed in the past few years. Line managers’ comfort with technology, and the extent to which it has suffused every part of day-to-day business life, means they are often better placed than IT professionals to determine how technology should be used to achieve the company’s objectives. Also the IT function no longer has scale or scope to be involved in all technology decisions without becoming a bottleneck (this recent post covers the trend in more depth).
This, coupled with a much more changeable business environment means that questions that IT used to ask of the line, such as “What will your organization look like in five years?” “What strategies will you use to achieve your objectives?” “Will your organization have entered a new market? Developed a new product? Redesigned your business model? Changed how you communicate with your customers?” are now much harder to answer for line managers.
In the next five years, the economic climate could change, customer preferences could shift, and new competitors could threaten your business. Innovations in technology will provide new opportunities to explore, and new leadership could send the firm in a new direction. While most organizations have long-term growth targets, their strategies constantly evolve.
Digitization, the process of exploiting data and technology to drive business growth, is causing the pace of change to get even faster. At many organizations, everyone from the CEO to the most junior employee will experiment with new ways to use technology. This increase in small, experimental technology projects has fundamentally disrupted traditional IT planning processes, and made it far more difficult to develop long-term technology plans.
This new scenario has caused a lot of those in the enterprise architecture (EA) function to ask whether long-term roadmapping is still a valuable investment.
In recent conversations with CEB members, some chief architects suggest that long-term roadmapping is no longer feasible. If the business does not have a detailed five-year plan, these architects argue, how can EA develop a technology roadmap to help them achieve it? At best, creating long-term roadmaps is a waste of effort, a never-ending cycle of updates and revisions. At worst, a long-term roadmap could actually tarnish EA’s reputation, if EA is perceived as making promises on which it doesn’t deliver.
Without a long-range vision of business technology demand, some EAs have started to focus purely on the supply side. These architects focus on existing systems, identifying ways to reduce redundancies or improve flexibility. But without a clear connection to business plans, they struggle to secure funding to make their plans a reality.
Some EA groups have turned their focus to the near-term, trying to influence the small decisions being made every day all over their organizations. EAs can have greater impact, they believe, if they serve as advisors to IT and business stakeholders, guiding them to make cost-efficient, enterprise-aligned technology decisions.
Rather than taking a top-down perspective, shaping architecture through one master plan, they work from the bottom-up, encouraging more efficient working by influencing the myriad technology decisions being made each day.
For more on making the most of roadmaps, CEB Enterprise Architecture members can access the following resources on the dedicated website.
These ideas are just a few of the many perspectives we have heard from CEB Enterprise Architecture members in recent weeks. Do you think there is a place for long-term roadmapping? How are you adjusting your roadmapping process to adapt to an increasingly uncertain business environment? We’d love to hear from you.