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What Every CIO Wants to Know About Enterprise Architecture – But Is Too Afraid to Ask

What Every CIO Wants to Know About Enterprise Architecture – But Is Too Afraid to Ask

The relationship between enterprise architecture and the CIO has always been difficult. Depending on the background of the CIO, they typically either throw up their hands in horror or relegate the enterprise architecture team to focusing on IT architecture. Usually it is not because they don’t understand the value of enterprise architecture, but because they find it either takes too long or costs too much, or even worse, the enterprise architecture team comes across as guardians of the universe.

The big question most CIO’s are afraid to ask is, “What value am I getting from my enterprise architecture efforts?” Which is followed with, “How can I measure that value with certainty?” Often, just asking the question produces uncomfortable answers.

For the most part, there is a challenge communicating the value in business terms.

Additionally, there is the perception that enterprise architects are acting as policemen. They accuse the enterprise architecture team of preventing agility, imposing unreasonable standards, or restricting what or how people work. Under pressure to get results, it is all too easy to listen to these voices and undermine the enterprise architecture team efforts.

The fact remains, that ungoverned work and change will lead to chaos at best and severe negative business impact at worst. However, for enterprise architects to have their voices heard and listened to, they need to change from a policing role to a more consultative role. Don’t dictate standards and restrict what people do; instead, agree on guidelines and principles that focus on where common approaches matter. Be ahead of the curve when it comes to changing or removing old practices that are no longer relevant, and ask yourself, can we manage with fewer standards?

Lastly, depending on the aims and ambitions of your CIO, take time to explain how, with an enterprise architect sitting at their right hand, they can have a greater business impact. With the speed of change being driven by technology, enterprise architects are a great weapon in helping put the CIO in the driver’s seat for business transformation – but only if they have the full picture.

Three Actions to Improve Engagement with your CIO

  1. Understand your CIO’s key priorities. “What’s in it for me” applies equally as well when dealing with our chain of management as it does with business users in general. Make sure that you understand your CIO’s top 3 – 5 priorities. Then, clearly demonstrate how enterprise architecture efforts are able (and needed) to achieve their goals in a timely fashion, and the risks if they fail to consider the enterprise architecture perspective. Depending on where your role sits in the organisation, you may find that this drives you more to IT architecture than enterprise architecture, although not ideal, if this is what it takes to demonstrate value, then this is where you should place your initial focus.
  2. Don’t talk artefacts; talk about decisions and choices. Too often when interacting with enterprise architects, CIO’s report that the discussion quickly turns to artefacts and models. The fact is that CIO’s don’t actually want either of them! What they need is timely, accurate information that enables them to make smarter decisions faster. Take more time to explain what better decisions they can make based on having an enterprise architecture plan in place. This is a great opportunity to elevate the discussions into more business centric areas, and to demonstrate the importance of business architecture as part of enterprise architecture.
  3. Use portfolios as a common language: Whether talking with your CIO or with your colleagues in the PMO, portfolios make for a great common language and understanding. CIO’s are frequently tasked with reducing IT spend and thus reducing portfolios of IT systems. However, by leveraging a portfolio approach, they can also understand the impact of decisions, e.g. this project will impact these systems, or upgrading system X will also impact system y. Explain how leveraging the portfolio aspects of your enterprise architecture can avoid mistakes, pre-empt potential future problems, and allow to plan with certainty. You might also consider using examples of past failures to illustrate how they could have been avoided.

What do you think of these recommendations? Leave a comment below on how your organisation is improving  the relationship between enterprise architecture and the CIO.

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Mark McGregor
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Mark McGregor is a former Research Director at leading IT industry analysis firm Gartner. Mark has an extensive background in enterprise architecture, business process management, and change management, having held executive positions with a number of technology companies. Mark has authored or co-authored four books on business and process management, including “Thrive! How to Succeed in the Age of the Customer” and “In Search of BPM Excellence” and “People Centric Process Management. Widely respected for his knowledge and views on business change, he is the creator of “Next Practice” and has variously been described as a ”BPM Guru”, a “Thought Leader” and a “Master of Mindset”. Mark is passionate about the people aspects of change, he has spent much of the last ten years travelling the world, learning, teaching, and researching the cultural aspects of change and how executives perceive business and process improvement In this capacity he has literally taught hundreds of people and been fortunate to interview and interact with many CEO’s. Mark holds qualifications or certifications in Six Sigma, PRINCE2, Sales, Neuro-Linguistic Programming and Hypnosis! Mark suggests that it is the variety of his studies, which provide the depth he offers to his clients, in his words “It is the difference that makes the difference”