Solving I.T.'s Biggest ChallengeBy Michael Vizard | Posted 2007-05-24 Print
Too many companies have trouble seeing the relationship between I.T. and business processes.You can't manage what you can't see, and even if you can see it, that doesn't necessarily mean you understand it. One of the overarching problems with I.T. today is that no company can make a business decision of any merit without kicking off some sort of related I.T. process. But truth be told, very few organizations have a real handle on the relationship between a business process, such an order to cash, and the underlying I.T. systems that power this type of transaction. And worse yet, if they did have visibility into the process, they would probably discover that they have four sets of different systems handling overlapping business processes.
The end result of all this confusion is that most senior I.T. executives can't really have a candid conversation with their business counterparts about what the real I.T. costs will be when somebody proposes a new business process. The standard default response is to frantically find some sort of reference model in the suite of SAP or Oracle applications that approximates what the business wants to do, and then try as hard as possible to make the business process bend to meet the capabilities of the software when what the business needs is for the software to bend to the requirements of the business. After all, if what you're doing is merely a slight variation on the business processes as coded in the SAP or Oracle applications that every one of your competitors is using, it becomes pretty hard to argue that your I.T. investments are strategic.
The biggest problem most organizations face when trying to align their I.T. investments more closely with the business is getting their arms around what they have. In a business context, this means not just having an asset management system that tracks how much hardware you have and the number of software licenses you need. It means having a modeling system where you can create what-if scenarios that show the relationship between new application requirements and the underlying I.T. infrastructure. For example, if the company wants to create a new set of business processes, I.T. people should be able to closely approximate the impact that those new processes will have on the technology infrastructure so they can identify the corresponding requirements and costs associated with those business processes.
That may sound a little far-fetched, but that's exactly what the I.T. people at Warner Bros. have built, using process modeling software from Troux Technologies. As vice president of technology architecture and planning for Warner Bros., Doug Rousso has a singular passion for doing the underlying forensics work that allows his company to literally visualize its enterprise architecture and associated business processes. He does this by first capturing, in the Troux software, knowledge from members of the I.T. staff about systems associated with specific business processes; Rousso then links the modeling package to various asset and network management systems to keep the model updated on a daily basis.
This is no simple undertaking, and the Troux software is not some sort of silver bullet that automates the process of collecting all this information. It still takes months to compile all the necessary data. But what Troux does provide is a tool that allows senior I.T. executives and their business counterparts to make sense of all the data. This in turn takes out a lot of the guesswork associated with trying to understand the impact that new sets of processes are likely to have on the I.T. infrastructure, so a proactive plan with real actionable steps can be developed—in contrast to putting in a reactive strategy that relies heavily on application accelerators and other black-box devices to compensate for unforeseen pressure being brought to bear on network, server and storage infrastructures that were pretty fragile to begin with.
And on a personal level, it allows senior I.T. managers to look like they have some level of command over their operations, instead of hoping that vague answers packaged around technology buzzwords don't give away too much about how little control they have over I.T. within the company.
The opportunity here is to take the whole I.T. conversation to a higher level, because now you start to think about what it might take to customize a piece of software to extend a business process without necessarily having to fear that the entire I.T. infrastructure might collapse under its own weight. After all, isn't this what everybody has really been saying all these years when we talk about the need to have tighter integration between I.T. and the business?
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