In my last post, I wrote about the evolving need for big business to source generic capabilities from business partners/vendors. This shift provides an enormous opportunity as well as a threat for technology vendors and CIOs.
I’m not talking about the wholesale outsourcing of IT. Rather, the selective sourcing of business capabilities and business process through software-as-a-service (SaaS), most likely deployed through cloud-based platforms (capability-as-a-service, or CaaS). Software and hardware vendors need to rethink their business from the customer’s perspective. They must figure out how to transform their products into services that deliver business capabilities and business outcomes.
If you’re a tech vendor, this means that you need to analyze each target industry and determine which business capabilities are likely to be strategic, and which are most likely to be generic. In retailing, for example, strategic capabilities might center on mastering customer data to create unique and valuable customer experiences as well as price optimization. Whereas capabilities around merchandising and assortment planning may be generic across many retailers (even though most merchandisers I know would never admit to this), these generic capabilities are likely to be delivered as SaaS in the future.
If you have existing solutions that target an industry’s generic capabilities, they are prime candidates for delivering the capability to the market as a service. Where your solutions target strategic capabilities, you will need to provide highly customized services through strategic partnership arrangements.
When I started as an architect, I was part of the team called “IT Architecture.” It was clear what we did and who we did it for – we standardized technology and designs so that IT would be more reliable, deliver business solutions more quickly, and cost less. We were an IT-centric function. Then the term “Enterprise Architecture” came in – and spurred debates as to “isn’t EA about the business?,” “what’s the right scope for EA?,” and “should EA report to the CEO?” We debated it, published books and blogs about it – but it didn’t change what most architects did; they did some flavor of IT Architecture.
Meanwhile, the interplay of business and technology changed . . . Technology became embedded and central to business results, and business leaders became technology advocates. The locus of technology innovation moved from the “heavy lifting” of core system implementations to the edges of the business, where business staff see opportunities and demand more autonomy to seize them. For enterprise architects, this means that regardless of what EA has been, in the future it must become a business-focused and embedded discipline. Mapping this shift is a key theme of Forrester’s Enterprise Architecture Forum 2011.
Gene Leganza, who will be presenting the opening keynote “EA In The Year 2020: Strategic Nexus Or Oblivion?,” states it this way:
What will business and technology be like in 2020 – and what’s IT’s place in this new world? This is the subject of a teleconference that James Staten and I held for our clients yesterday and also the subject of an upcoming Forrester report.
In this teleconference, we painted a picture of the impact of business-ready, self-service technology, a tech-savvy and self-sufficient workforce, and a business world in which today’s emerging economies dwarf the established ones, bringing a billion new consumers with a radically different view of products and services, as well as in which surging resource costs – especially energy costs – crush today’s global business models.
In the past, when new waves of technology swept into our businesses – everything from the 1980s’ PCs to today’s empowered technologies – the reaction was the swinging pendulum of “decentralized/embedded IT” followed by “centralized/industrialized IT.” These tired old reactions won’t work in the world 2020. Instead, businesses must move to a model we call Empowered BT.
Empowered BT empowers business to pursue opportunities at the edge and the grassroots – but to balance this empowerment with enterprise concerns. Key to this balance is the interplay between four new “meta roles” – visionaries, consultants, integrators, and sustainability experts – combined with a new operating model based on guidelines, mentoring, and inspection. Also key is IT changing from a mindset in which it needs to control technology to one in which it embraces business ownership of technology decisions.
The teleconference chat window was busy as James and I presented our research. Here are the questions we weren’t able to answer due to time.
In developing a technology strategy for your organization, what will be your basis for deciding which technologies to pursue, when to pursue them, and how to implement them? In other words, what will be the foundation for your technology architecture and strategy? In considering this question, I assume we agree that technology strategy should directly support improvement of business outcomes, both now and over the long haul. To provide for the long haul, your technology architecture and strategy must be crafted to support a continuous stream of business change, both small incremental steps and large radical shifts.
Your strategy could begin with a list of hot technologies — perhaps even ones that business colleagues are clamoring for — but how would you know which of them would lead to the most important improvements in business outcomes? You could begin with your top executives’ current business plans and strategies — which would clearly address today’s priorities for improving outcomes — but over the long haul, business plans change, sometimes dramatically, making them an unstable foundation for technology strategy.
Since the goal of technology strategy is to improve business outcomes, let’s refine the question with that as our focus: What basis for technology architecture and strategy:
(a) Aligns best with the ways that business leaders conceive, plan, execute, and measure improvements to business outcomes,
(b) Provides the best structure for building technology implementations that align with and facilitate the ways that businesses change both now and over the long haul, and
(c) Best guides the prioritization, planning, architecture, design, and usage of technology within business improvement projects?