Home > Articles > Software Development & Management > Architecture and Design

  • Print
  • + Share This
This chapter is from the book

1.5 Building an Enterprise Information Strategy and the Information Agenda™

Enterprises need to achieve information agility, leveraging trusted information as a strategic asset for sustained competitive advantage. However, becoming an Information-Enabled Enterprise through the implementation of an enterprise information environment that is efficient, optimized, and extensible does not happen by accident. This is why companies need to have an Information Agenda6—a comprehensive, enterprise-wide approach for information strategy and planning. An Information Agenda as shown in Figure 1.3 is an approach for transforming information into a trusted source that can be leveraged across applications and processes to support better decisions for sustained competitive advantage. It allows organizations to achieve the information agility that permits sustained competitive advantage by accelerating the pace at which companies can begin managing information across the enterprise.

Like building a bridge, the architects and engineers must start by showing what the bridge will do and look like, and then carefully plot each component and system so that individual project teams can implement new or enhanced systems that are consistent with the long-term vision. Unlike a bridge, an enterprise continually changes. Therefore, the roadmap must be adaptable to accommodate changing business priorities.

Unlike past planning approaches that have typically been suited for single applications or business functions, the Information Agenda must take a pervasive view of the information required to enable the entire value chain. It must incorporate new technologies, an ever-growing portfolio of business needs, and the impact of new channels (for example, social networks or blogs). The Information Agenda must also take into account the significant investments and value associated with existing systems. The challenge becomes how to combine the existing information environment with new and evolving technology and processes to create a flexible foundation for the future. New information management practices such as Master Data Management (MDM), Information Services within a Service-Oriented Architecture (SOA) environment, and Cloud Computing provide capabilities to further facilitate both the breadth and depth of capabilities required for a true Enterprise Information Architecture.

The Information Agenda must include the strategic vision and roadmap for organizations to:

  • Identify and prioritize Enterprise Information projects consistent with the business strategy and based on delivering real business value.
  • Identify what data and content is most important to the organization.
  • Identify how and when this information should be made available to support business decisions.
  • Determine what organizational capabilities and government practices are required to provision and access this data.
  • Determine what management processes are required to implement and sustain the plan.
  • Align the use of information with the organization’s business processes.
  • Create and deploy an Enterprise Information Architecture that meets current and future needs.

The Information Agenda becomes the central forum for business and IT leaders to begin taking a serious look at their information environment. It enables leadership to begin formulating a shared vision, developing a comprehensive Enterprise Information Strategy, and ultimately designing the detailed blueprints and roadmaps needed to deliver significant business value by truly optimizing the use and power of Enterprise Information.

Figure 1.3 displays the four key dimensions of the Information Agenda.

The following sections provide an overview of the four key phases associated with developing an Enterprise Information Agenda. Each of these represents a phase of work and decision making, and a set of specific work products that comprise an effective Information Agenda.

1.5.1 Enterprise Information Strategy

The key to building a successful Enterprise Information Strategy is to closely align it to your business strategy. In so doing, the development process is often as important as the strategy it produces. This process enables business leaders to consider, evaluate, reconcile, prioritize, and agree on the information vision and related roadmap. It should compel business executives to actively gain consensus, sponsor the strategy, and lead their respective organizations accordingly. This includes “leading by example” and, in some cases, delaying projects benefiting executives’ own functions and departments to accelerate others that are in the best interests of the corporation. To this end, great care should be taken in defining the strategy development approach and ensuring that the right decision makers participate in its development and execution.

From a technology perspective, the information strategy establishes the principles which will guide the organization’s efforts to derive an Enterprise Information Architecture and exploit the trusted information and advanced analytical insight that the architecture enables. As such, the enterprise information strategy provides an end-to-end vision for all aspects of the information.

As part of this process, there are three key steps that must be performed to establish the vision and strategy:

  1. Define an Enterprise Information vision based on business value.
  2. Determine future-state business capabilities.
  3. Justify the value to the organization.

1.5.1.1 Define an Enterprise Information vision based on business value

From the outset, IT and business leadership must develop a comprehensive, shared vision for their Enterprise Information environment. This vision describes a long-term, achievable future-state environment, documenting benefits and capabilities in business terms and showing how information is captured and used across the enterprise. This vision must be driven from, and aligned with, the business strategy. In this sense, the information vision never evolves independently, but is always tied to the business strategy via its objectives and performance metrics. It includes operational, analytical, planning and contextual information, and it is designed to benefit almost everyone in the enterprise, from executive leadership to line workers, and from automated systems to end-customers and suppliers. The alignment and mapping of business and technical metadata, which is a key aspect of the Enterprise Information Architecture, enables this interlock between the information vision and the business strategy.

1.5.1.2 Determine your future-state business capabilities

This phase frames the key comparison between the current state (“where are we now?”) with the desired future state (“where do we want to be?”) from a business value perspective. The result is a gap analysis that identifies what needs to be changed and to what extent, or in other words, what effort is required to close the gap between where we are and where we want to be.

It is useful to develop an understanding of both current and future state by thinking in terms of maturity. Maturity is a measure of establishment, competence, or sophistication in a given capability. At this point in the strategy development process, both the maturity model and gap analysis are likely limited to a very high-level point of reference: This point of reference provides meaningful information on how much change is required within the enterprise information environment and provides guidance to ensure that the blueprint and roadmap are realistic and achievable. Its creation might require subjective opinions and the process might spark energetic debate between different business units and IT leaders. This said, it is not detailed enough to frame initiatives or transformation work. This happens within the blueprint and roadmap process.

1.5.1.3 Justify the value to the organization

Justifying the value to the organization provides a documented, value-based economic justification for enabling the process, organization, and technology capabilities set forth in the Information Agenda Roadmap. Although it is listed here as an end-product, the process of building the value case (also known more plainly as a “business case”) is an ongoing, iterative process throughout the entire strategy development cycle, and an ongoing measurement and maintenance activity throughout design and implementation.

The value case frames the benefits to the organization, typically expressed both in business-terms and quantifiable metrics, whenever possible. The value case is instrumental in the decision-making process and is also used to maintain commitment and energy for the transformation throughout the entire lifecycle. It is not uncommon for leaders to lose focus as they become involved in other important areas, yet the value case stands as an important reminder of their commitment and the reasons to continue with difficult project work.

Key components of the strategy are value drivers, or, in other words, the specific measurable benefits and attributes that create value, such as identifying new revenue opportunities, reducing costs, or improving productivity. These value drivers can number in the hundreds or even thousands for an enterprise, but generally are logically grouped by: customers, products, employees, financial management, supply chain, or other operational and functional areas.

By having a timely line-of-sight into these value drivers, executives can better identify those opportunities that represent the greatest value and return on investment for the corporation.

1.5.2 Organizational Readiness and Information Governance

After the vision and strategy are completed, the next step is to evaluate the readiness of the organization to embrace and implement these plans. While Enterprise Information is often thought of in terms of systems and technology, it is the people, processes, organization, and culture that ultimately contribute heavily to success.

Information Governance is a critical component in aligning the people, processes, and technology to ensure the accuracy, consistency, timeliness and transparency of data so that it can truly become an enterprise asset. Information Governance can help unlock the financial advantages that are derived by improved data quality, management processes, and accountability. Business performance and the agility of the Enterprise Information Architecture are also dependent on effective enterprise information definition and governance. This is done via common definitions and processes that drive effective strategy development, execution, tracking, and management. To this end, Information Governance is an important enabler for the Enterprise Information Architecture.

At the outset, it is essential to assess the organization’s current information governance framework and processes to determine whether they are robust enough to sustain a competitive, long-term Information Agenda. To manage information as a strategic asset, managing the quality of data and content is critical and can be accomplished only with the right governance and processes in place, supported by appropriate tools and technology.

1.5.3 Information Infrastructure

Assessing and planning the Information Infrastructure is an integral part of developing the Information Agenda. And while there is a strong affinity of all phases of the Information Agenda to the Enterprise Information Architecture, it is an integral part of the Information Infrastructure phase. The ability to govern the Information Infrastructure and to analyze the efforts needed to get from the “as-is” state to the “to-be” state supporting new business needs requires a comprehensive map of all information systems in the enterprise. This map for the Information Infrastructure is the Enterprise Information Architecture and is thus an integral part of the Information Agenda blueprint. This architecture must include a company’s current tools and technologies while at the same time incorporating the newer technologies that provide the requisite enterprise scalability and sustainability necessary to address both short term and longer term business priorities.

There are two important steps. First, you must understand the current information infrastructure environment and capture this in an Enterprise Information Architecture showing the current state. Second, you need to define the future information infrastructure and capture this in an Enterprise Information Architecture showing the future state. You can then identify important gaps determining what is needed to get from current to future state.

1.5.3.1 Understand your current Information Infrastructure Environment

This activity involves understanding the company’s existing Information Infrastructure with a goal of leveraging, to the greatest extent possible, the investments that have already been made. The current state architecture can then be compared to the future state architecture to identify those technology areas where there might be redundant tools and technologies or, on the other hand, those areas where additional technology might be required now or in the future.

1.5.3.2 Define your future Information Infrastructure

As much as the business vision is essential in describing the desired future state, defining the future Enterprise Information Architecture describes a longer-term and achievable “to-be” state for the Enterprise Information technology environment. Many different information stakeholders should participate in this process, including: Enterprise Architecture, Information Management, Business Intelligence, and Content Management, to name a few. The remainder of this book will describe the Enterprise Information Architecture process in much more detail.

1.5.4 Information Agenda Blueprint and Roadmap

The final step in the development of an Information Agenda is the most important. The three previous steps have each primarily focused on a single important dimension. In developing the Information Agenda Blueprint and Roadmap, these three elements come together and are expressed in the Blueprint via the end-state vision. This is complemented with a short-term tactical plan and a higher level, longer-term strategic plan included in the Roadmap. This Blueprint and Roadmap help ensure that the Information Agenda creates value for the organization, remains aligned with business dynamics and requirements, and prioritizes the necessary projects in the right sequence based on the delivered value.

In essence, the Blueprint describes the “what” the organization is going to do and “where” they are going, as it relates to the information management vision. And the Roadmap defines “how” to achieve this vision. Two key work streams guide this process to successful completion:

  1. Develop the Information Agenda Blueprint.
  2. Develop the Information Agenda Roadmap and Project Plans.

1.5.4.1 Develop the Information Agenda Blueprint

In this step of the Information Agenda development process, an operational view of the proposed Enterprise Information capabilities is developed, rendered, and described relative to how it exists in its proposed end state. It is a fusion of business capabilities, organizational design, and technologies required to enable the transformation. The Blueprint answers the question “What are we going to build?” This Blueprint, if fully developed, is the to-be state of the Enterprise Information Architecture.

Much like the blueprint for a house containing structural elements, such as plumbing, electrical, mechanical, and so on, the Information Agenda Blueprint provides the design for the new Enterprise Information environment.

Different from the vision, the Blueprint is described in operational terms. To continue the house analogy, the vision for the house might describe its size, number of rooms, whether it’s modern, has a warm design, or is ergonomic, and so on. The Blueprint is stated in terms of bricks, mortar, pipes, wires, and so on. In the Information Agenda context, the vision might be voiced in statements such as “Users are able to access real time performance data,” whereas the Blueprint might describe “an online performance data dashboard supported by a business intelligence database and rules engine.”

Although we describe the Blueprint as an end-state, a good Blueprint is designed for future extensibility, meaning that it will provide a flexible foundation for the future, as the business strategy, requirements, and technologies change over time.

1.5.4.2 Develop an Information Agenda Roadmap and project plans

This work stream involves creating the roadmap of prioritized Enterprise Information initiatives and projects designed to build out the processes, architecture, and capabilities designed in the Blueprint. The Blueprint answers the question “What are we trying to build?” The Roadmap answers the question “How are we going to build it?”

The ultimate product of the Roadmap is a prioritized portfolio of initiatives, projects, and waves that build out the features of the Blueprint. Each project (or group of projects) typically focuses on delivering specific functionality and includes an underlying work plan. These project plans typically include goals, resources, schedules, deliverables, milestones, activities, responsibilities, and budgets. Because of the relative complexity and magnitude of work required at an enterprise-level, a good roadmap needs to integrate these plans in a way that delivers short-term value “quick hits” while also specifying the longer term approach, consistent with the business priorities and the Information Blueprint. To this end, the following techniques are often used to develop the Information Blueprint Roadmap:

  • Varying levels of summary and detail in the roadmap—These are used to describe progress and plans with different audiences. It is typical to develop a macro view of the entire roadmap, usually expressed on a single page with large, telegraphic chevrons that show the entire picture at an executive level. Supporting this will be detailed work plans developed for the first project(s).

  • Sequential prioritization of groups of projects—These are usually defined as “waves,” which are collections of projects that happen in a sequence (for example, Wave 1, Wave 2, Wave 3, and so on) based on their importance to the organization, their likelihood to deliver immediate benefits or payback, commonality of the projects, and the dependency of their completion for future waves. Smartly organized and sequenced waves maximize the benefits of the projects to the organization. Oftentimes, companies are able to “fund” future waves with the benefits generated from the early waves.

  • A portfolio approach—This is used to manage multiple, parallel projects to ensure the best use of valuable resources, to reduce and improve coordination among the various teams, to reconcile efforts with existing or in-flight projects, and to manage the resource impact (be it people or investment dollars) on the organization.

  • Center of Excellence (COE) or Center of Competency (COC)—This is an organizational item—the previous bullets were project-related items. The COEs and COCs are deployed to accomplish this portfolio approach at many organizations. These centers are an effective way of building and enhancing key information management skills and then leveraging those skills across multiple projects.

The Roadmap represents the final and most important product produced from the Information Agenda process because it brings together the results from each of the other three Phases. However, many well-intentioned managers have the urge to skip the other phases of the Information Agenda development process and attempt to draft their own individual project plans from the start, or perhaps right after the vision is set. From an enterprise perspective, this is a “recipe for disaster” as it commonly enables these teams to develop their own designs and select their own technologies for specific capabilities and functions without a view of the overall environment. In fact, this is how many Enterprise Information environments became the “jungle” that they are today when projects are spawned from the “bottom up” and not guided by a central vision, strategy, and plan.

The process described previously, while generalized, describes a proven and high-quality approach to an Information Agenda development. Each enterprise should tailor, weigh, and prioritize activities to suit its individual needs and situation. Different organizations will want to customize or add certain steps based on their individual circumstances and priorities. In general, these four activities represent the major decision points and deliverables needed to create a comprehensive, pragmatic, and flexible Information Agenda.

  • + Share This
  • 🔖 Save To Your Account