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what is the future for the internal IT function? March 3, 2010

Posted by Chris Eaton in competitive strategy, IT strategy.
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Building on my previous post on competitive strategy I wonder what just is the future of the internal IT function? (of an organisation whose core business is not IT)

There are definite and obvious trends in outsourcing. Helpdesks, end user support, application maintenance, application development, hosting, etc. These types of outsourcing are further combined when outsourcing through Software as a Service, Application Service Provider (ASP) and platform as a service.

In competitive strategy terms, most outsourcing is targeting cost leadership to reduce, minimise, or optimists might say,  optimise these particular activities through outsourcing by  delivering these kinds of activities through a single service providers who services many customers and therefore can devlier higher economies of scale.

Outsourcing is so pervasive when you encounter a company who have not outsourced these kinds of activities it begs the question of why not, surely some parts of the IT strategy is to achieve cost leadership and outsourcing is an obvious option (if all too often seen as the only option to reduce cost)

What I am trying to get at is that cost leadership is a common behaviour exhibited by IT functions. Outsourcing is an accepted, common and obvious strategy to reduce costs. Differentiation on the other hand seems alot less tangible. I think the differentiation (the extra value) that an IT function offers is not so obvious. (although one might argue that achieving cost leadership is a form of differentiation)

Is it arguable that as outsourcing increases then the need for an internal IT function reduces? I am tending to think that way.

Application development, maintenance and hosting is all outsourced, why not outsource IT strategy and planning? in any case you probably use consultants in this space already… ok i am teasing with an extreme possibility, but, my point is it is very important to be clear with the business about the value (the differentiation) that the internal IT function delivers that cannot be delivered by any one else. How is your IT function differentiating itself from its competitors of consultancies and outsource providers? is it obvious?

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IT and Micheal Porters Competitive Strategy January 4, 2010

Posted by Chris Eaton in EA, IT Architecture, IT strategy, Uncategorized.
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2 comments

I recently rediscovered Michael Porters book – ‘Competitive Strategy: Techniques for Analyzing Industries and Competitors’. This is essential reading for anyone strategist in business or IT. I skim read through it to refresh my memory and a very thought-provoking read it was indeed.

In a nutshell Porter puts forward three generic strategies which any competitive organisation might decide to implement to win in the marketplace:

  • Cost Leadership – be the cheapest at performing a particular activity  or service
  • Differentiation – offer something of value (a service) that no one else offers
  • Focus – combine Cost Leadership and Differentiation to be the cheapest in some activities (services) and offer value add (services) in other activities

In reality the Focus strategy is the one most organisations will use, the trick is to choose where to minimise cost and where to differentiate.

Two simple examples

As an IT organisation within a larger non IT Business it is probable that your Focus Strategy will be to:

  • provide Cost Leadership for commodity activities like Application Hosting and Application Maintenance by providing the cheapest hosting and application maintenance possible whilst meeting business commitments. The most likely route to achieve this is outsourcing to specialist hosting and application maintenance organisations.
  • provide Differentiation by delivering IT solutions (mainly applications) which focus on how the business itself wishes to differentiate itself in the marketplace

As an IT organisation offering IT Services like Application Hosting and Application Maintenance the a possible Focus Strategy is to:

  • provide Differentiation in Application Hosting and Maintenance with a twist that no-one else offers which could be flexible pricing based on actual hosting usage and service levels rather than fixed costs or provide specialist services like high availability
  • provide Cost Leadership through employing staff and hosting at the most effective locations

The conclusion of this post is whether IT organisations are really thinking in these terms. Generally I would say that most organisations are focused on Cost Leadership by minimising the cost of IT. However, the real prize for IT to become an invaluable partner to the business is through differentiation which is arguably much more difficult than slashing costs, true business intimacy is needed to achieve this.

Do you know how you are differentiating for your business? and does the business know you are differentiating and offering something they cannot get from an external party?

Wikipedia has a good summary of these three generic strategies -> here

is cloud just a load of vapour? December 9, 2009

Posted by Chris Eaton in Uncategorized.
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hurrah now togaf 9 certified December 7, 2009

Posted by Chris Eaton in Uncategorized.
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after taking the exam on Friday I recieved notification on sunday that i have passed and i am now togaf 9 certified, hurrah!

SFIA – Skills descriptions and levels for IT professionals December 4, 2009

Posted by Chris Eaton in architecture, people.
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I was recently introduced to the Skills Framework for the Information Age (SFIA). This framework is geared at IT professionals and the skills and level of skill required in different areas of IT be it in architecture, project management, service management/service delivery, procurement, change management, etc

I like the framework because it keeps things simple by concentrating on a limited set of generic skills and covers pretty much any IT job.

The framework is free and can be downloaded here -> http://www.sfia.org.uk/

I finally took the togaf 9 exam today December 4, 2009

Posted by Chris Eaton in architecture, togaf 9.
82 comments

the exam went ok. The questions were very similar to the Open Group sample multiple choice and scenario questions. I am quietly hopeful i passed. I should find out at the start of next week whether i succeeded

TOGAF 9 Certification Scenario Questions October 7, 2009

Posted by Chris Eaton in togaf 9.
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10 comments

following on from the example multiple choice questions here are two scenario questions.

I will endeavour to write a few more but these should give you a sense of the question format and what the exam is looking for in terms of the ranked answers

download the sample scenario questions

download the multiple choice questions

TOGAF 9 Certification Multiple Choice Questions August 24, 2009

Posted by Chris Eaton in Uncategorized.
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there has been a lot of requests for TOGAF 9 questions so here is a set I made up for the multiple choice sections of the Certification and Bridging exams. I have not taken the exam yet but i have seen some of the example test papers

download the sample questions

*** update*** download the TOGAF 9 part 2 exam examples – these are the scenario questions
enjoy!

*** update *** I just posted an updated version of the questions following excellent feedback from Yuriy pointing out an error or two!

I should be taking the exam myself in the next couple of weeks, just as soon as our overdue baby arrives…

TOGAF 9 July 14, 2009

Posted by Chris Eaton in architecture, architecture method, artitecture, EA, IT Architecture, methodology, methods, people, Uncategorized.
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the last 2 days i have been attending a TOGAF  course run by cap gemini who have made the majority contribution to the latest version of TOGAF

The good

so i learnt that many of my criticisms of TOGAF 8 have been addressed. Specifically it adds:

The Architecture Content Framework which is a library of prior architectures to stimulate reuse and reuse of best practice rather than reinventing the wheel

A meta-model which includes specific artifacts which result from each of the phases i.e. what you should produce and when, this was absent from TOGAF 8

An architecture capability framework which recognised that good architectures result from consistently trained architects with a high level of education and experience. At the end of the day your architectures will only be as good as the people who developed them

TOGAF is now more obviously applicable to solution architecture, when previously i saw it much more in the enterprise/strategic architecture space

The bad

the vapourware of the enterprise continuum remains this is still poorly described and arguably redundant. The continuum was always poor conceived and in-specific now it is super seeded by the Architecture #Content Framework, It is a such a shame the open group cannot shed this kind of legacy and have much stronger editorial process.

The Architecture Development Method still does not split out data and application architecture, this is stil bucketed under Information System Architecture,. Other areas of the open group like the IT Architect Certification recognising that these are separate significant activities. Again it seems the open group is so wedded to the ADM crop circle diagram it cannot, or will not, move forward and improve on prior thinking

The ugly

well nothing was that ugly to be honest, togaf version 9 is is definitely a step forward

how do I become an enterprise architect? May 14, 2009

Posted by Chris Eaton in architecture, artitecture, EA, mentoring, methods, people.
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28 comments

in a recent discussion with a mentee the question was raised ‘what is the difference between solution and enterprise architect?’

My standard answer to this is to talk about the difference between cityplanners who think about city wide infrastructure and future objectives (enterprise architects) and architects of individual buildings who think about how the house is laid out, how strong roof supports need to be and whether their plan will fit to the city planners constraints.

the next question was, ‘ok how do i become a city planner?’

interestingly the city planner/building architect planner analogy does not answer this question, it simply states a comparison of job roles. So after a little thought here is my answer:

artITecture Skills Model

artITecture Skills Model

Specialists

in essence as a developer (a specialist in IT) you know lots about a specific IT subject matter.  For instance you know how to write J2EE applications, test the code, deploy this into a container, use an integrated development environment and so on. Detailed stuff. In terms of exposure to different types of technology the experience is fairly narrow, working with specific technologies and probably with little care whether the solution is in a Human Resources, Finance, Supply Chain, Procurement and so on.

As a specialist you have some understanding of a particular business area but little thought or care for business strategy.

This growth in business and technical exposure leads to a point where there is a choice: remain specialised or loss the specialism and become more broadly focused – become an architect orchestrating the build but not directly building (rule of thumb says if your write code regularly you are probably not an architect).

Your sphere of influence is your code and immediate team.

Interpersonal skills are not so important as long as the code works!

Architects

Within the architect space the breadth of technical experience grows, but the hands on technical experience is shallow. On occasion deep dives return you to the specialist space.

You have the experience and credibility from the specialist experience to generalise, relate and guide specialists without ever having to have directly worked with the technology.

The trick here is to use specialists for their specialist skills, and bring this together at the solutions level.

In business terms you have probably medium to deep understanding in one or two or perhaps more business areas.

In strategic terms you probably have thought about business strategy within a business area i.e. Finance or Supply Chain, but probably not in a true enterprise sense.

Your sphere of influence is the other architects and technicians on your immediate project. You act as a consultant to key business and project management staff on your assigned project

Interpersonal skills are becoming increasingly important to communicate your ideas and sell them to your immediate project team.

In my own experience moving from a specialist to an architect I clearly decided my time with code was done, and i had a great model who i strong thought ‘i want to be like him and do the job he does’  I still count this role model as one of my best friends

The transition to an architect did stretch me, it was difficult to give up the security of specialisation but it was a decision i never regretted.

Enterprise Architect

you have very broad and shallow exposure to all kinds of technology and business area with depth in some areas. You have a good understanding of technology and technological concepts but the detail isnt of significant interest but the impact it can make is very interesting particularly how it could reduce the cost of doing business or differentiating the business in market.

In strategic terms, and for me this a key differentiator for Enterprise Architects, you have a good understanding of business strategy models (i.e. Porter), think in broad business and IT terms and can apply this knowledge to sell a vision of the future,  the benefits of the future vision and how it can be realistically achieved.

Interpersonal skills become a critical success factor especially negotiation and  influencing. Selling is probably the most important skill. It is required to achieve buy-in for visionary ‘to-be’ solutions at all levels of the business

Your sphere of influence is to aim for company wide impact through process or IT change and influence people who didnt even know they needed influencing!

My own experience of moving from architect to enterprise architect was similar to my transition from specialist to architect, i felt i was giving up a comfort blanket in business and technology architect specialisation for a very broad, perhaps somewhat inspecific role with an emphasis on strategic and inter personal skills, and not too emphasis on technology expertise – something which i had always seens as a personal strength and passion – but again i never regretted the move it was right at the time and i really enjoy the influencing aspects to my EA roles.

In summary, I hope it is clear that business, technology breadth and strategic business thinking is way to become an Enterprise architect, it will take work, it will take opportunity and a good dose of sponsership but in my view it is well worth it.