by Jeff Scott

How Enterprise Architects Can Gain Influence with the CIO

Feb 11, 2011
Enterprise Architecture

Enterprise architects and CIOs don't always communicate well, which can spell trouble at budget time. Applying business architecture tools can really pay off, helping senterprise architects structure the conversation around the CIO's strategic vision, Forrester Research says.

The relationship between the CIO and the architects that work for them often lacks a clear line of communication, which can result in a major gap between what the CIO really wants in a well-architected environment and what the architecture team ultimately delivers. Why? Although the CIO might have a high-level understanding of EA’s value to the company, he is less likely to provide a clear problem set for enterprise architects to attack, resulting in too much emphasis on architecture design and too little on solving specific problems. Over time, it is primarily this lack of defined goals that leads EA teams into trouble when budgets get tight. Getting a clear set of CIO aligned EA goals positions EA to become a more valued member of the IT organization.

To close this gap, EAs should take accountability for the disconnect and put EA-CIO alignment at the top of their initiatives list. The first challenge here is to accept that the CIO wants EA to solve problems — not create elegant architecture. He doesn’t mind if the architecture structure is a little messy if his issues are being resolved. EA’s will gain much more CIO support if they embrace the product design axiom “form follows function.” The second challenge is keeping the CIO focused on the strategic elements of EA’s charter. This is where applying business architecture tools to IT can really pay off by helping structure the conversation around the CIO’s strategic vision and goals and avoiding being saddled with more tactical problems.

The business architect’s toolbox contains a number of tools that BAs can apply to IT as well as to the business. And while a major focus for business architects is to foster business-IT alignment, they can also apply the same tools and techniques to improving EA’s alignment with CIO concerns. EAs aiming to develop tight alignment with CIO concerns should consider:

Using an IT capability map to identify focus areas. Forrester is finding capability maps to be a powerful tool that fosters strategic conversations between business and IT executives. Architects can use capability maps specifically created for IT as the foundation for strategic conversations with their CIOs. Step one: engage in a series of conversations with the CIO to create and validate an IT capability map that resonates with the CIO’s viewpoint on what’s important for IT’s success. Step two: create a heat map view to identify capabilities that need development or remedial action.

Execute a SWOT analysis to target improvement areas. By focusing only on the high-priority capabilities identified in the heat-mapping exercise, architects can perform a strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats analysis to uncover opportunities for improvement. Once these improvement opportunities are identified, EAs can select the high-priority targets by comparing the value of a solution with its fit within EA’s mission and abilities. Of course not all solutions will be in the EA domain and should be passed on to other groups.

Illuminate EA’s contribution with a value chain. Enterprise architecture initiatives most often come to fruition from the actions of others. For example, a number of subject-matter experts may contribute to solution design, while others contribute to its execution. By using a value chain, EAs can demonstrate how their actions contribute to resolving capability shortcomings and addressing the CIO’s concerns.

Demonstrate results with a capability evolution road map. Road maps are often used by architects to demonstrate technology evolution, or other high-level views of progress toward a goal. EAs can also apply road maps to show capability development progress which provides the CIO with a more meaningful view than attained by examining individual projects and efforts.

While these tools and techniques will prove to add significant value to the CIO-EA relationship, roadmaps and analysis alone often won’t be enough. The most successful enterprise architects will be proactive in their alignments efforts, understanding what drives their CIO by examining his key stakeholders, and what they expect from him. And perhaps most importantly, these enterprise architects appreciate the value of keeping things simple. Unless asked for, there’s no reason to drop spreadsheets of data on the CIO’s desk. Like most senior executives, CIOs have a penchant for the bottom-line message. Business architecture tools are perfect for high-level information sharing.

Jeff Scott is Senior Analyst at Forrester Research, serving enterprise architecture professionals. Jeff will be speaking at Forrester’s Enterprise Architecture Forum, February 17-18 in San Francisco.