One Enterprise Architecture to Rule Them All

 
 
By Madeline Weiss  |  Posted 2012-03-01
 
 
 

Like many large financial services organizations, Chubb Insurance, the 11th largest property and casualty insurer in the United States, was quick to leverage enterprise technologies as they came to prominence in the early part of the 21st century. Yet, also like many enterprises at the time, the approach was more ad hoc than guided by an overall vision.

“When I joined the company, every business unit had its own architecture and architects,” says June Drewry, who was global CIO from 2005-2008 during much of the formative period of Chubb’s enterprise architecture (EA). “Everyone thought [he or she] had it right, but architecture was defined differently in every business unit. No one had the big picture. We had to learn what made sense for us to do at an enterprise level and what was best left in the business units.”

In 2006, senior IT leadership in the $50 billion company determined that Chubb needed an EA function to move IT to the next level. After meeting with senior architects from each line of business (LOB) to hear their perspectives on how it might be accomplished, Drewry thought Patrick Sullivan, the senior architect manager of the Commercial Division, was the right person for the job of full-time chief enterprise architect.

There was only one problem: Sullivan didn’t want to leave his division. He thought if he moved into the fulltime chief enterprise architect role, he might be perceived as an “enterprise guy” by other LOB architects, which would make his job tougher. He felt that staying with the Commercial Division meant he would be “eating his own dog food,” living with his decisions like everyone else. After some discussion, Drewry agreed to allow him to do both jobs.

“During this time, Sullivan used logic and reason—not his position’s power—to explain why a common architecture is important,” Drewry says. It wasn’t until 2008, when Jim Knight took over as executive vice president and global CIO, that Sullivan’s position as the chief enterprise architect became full-time.

By then, he felt that the organization was fully on board with the enterprise architecture and was ready to accept the changes ahead. It was also at this point that Chubb Insurance moved to the federated architecture function it uses today.

Although the model is based on The Open Group Architecture Framework (TOGAF), Sullivan stresses, “Frameworks just provide you with the ingredients. They are not a cookbook or recipe, and they must be interpreted and applied appropriately.”

Striking a Balance

Enterprise architecture work at Chubb has been designed to ensure that architecture efforts strike a balance between developing the overall EA and supporting the necessary project work.

A major factor in this effort is the use of language a layperson can understand to describe the EA. A “city plan” is the overall plan for a portfolio of applications. These applications are linked with “city blocks” that represent Chubb’s business capabilities (e.g., marketing and sales, claims). All new projects must obtain a “building permit” to ensure that they are following enterprise standards and are not duplicating other efforts. If architects want to use a nonstandard technology, they must request a “variance.”

LOB architecture review boards drive and enforce enterprise standards within each LOB IT unit. They look for several key characteristics, including efficiency, value, balance, a focus on the business benefit and funding.

Focusing on the business benefits has been one of the biggest reasons Chubb’s EA has been so successful. “I get no pushback on architecture from the business at all,” says Knight. Sullivan believes it is because they involve the business partners at the start of the process and then keep them involved throughout. Architecture is presented in such a way that the business wants architecture on its side.

Although Chubb’s EA is still considered a work in progress, the results to date have been impressive. The architecture identifies opportunities to share common tools and processes across lines of business, thereby reducing costs. One example: In 2010, $600,000 was saved by redistributing unused site licenses for software.

Having an investment road map is another. Because Chubb’s EA depicts how data, technologies, applications and business capabilities fit together, the CIOs of each LOB can communicate with their non-IT business colleagues where and how IT is investing in the capabilities they need. This has led to greater credibility for IT because executives have confidence that Chubb is selecting the right technologies with the right understanding of business needs.

Decisions affecting time to market can also be made more quickly. Sharable capabilities put tools in place before they’re needed, and competency centers give projects access to a considerable depth of knowledge on an as-needed basis. EA’s introduction of reusability to IT is providing further payoffs in time to market. It’s also setting a solid foundation for the future.

Chubb’s 10-year journey toward the use of enterprise architecture has been predicated on common sense and built thoughtfully to ensure business and IT buy-in at each step of the process.

“If something doesn’t add value, we won’t do it,” Sullivan says. “We also want to minimize the bureaucracy and always make our reasons for what we expect clear.”

The company has come a long way from the days when the LOBs each had architectures unto themselves. But that cohesiveness is what is driving them forward when many around them are just trying to keep up with the present. Chubb has shown that one EA really can rule them all.

Madeline Weiss is the director of SIM’s Advanced Practices Council.  She is also the president of Weiss Associates, a consulting firm specializing in organizational strategy and change, especially as they relate to information services and technology. Weiss consults to global businesses, international nonprofits, universities and professional organizations. She can be reached at Madeline.Weiss@verizon.net.