Understanding processes key to bridging IT-business gap

IT solutions are often created without a good understanding of the business problems they are supposed to solve, John Bernhard says.

IT solutions are often created without a good understanding of the business problems they are supposed to solve, John Bernhard (pictured) says.

Similarly, businesses allow technical IT concerns to dictate their requirements, resulting in business processes that are “contaminated” by IT.

Bernhard, an independent system architect, and Henk van der Merwe, an architecture specialist at the ASB Bank, presented some thoughts on adopting a business architecture to members of the Worldwide Institute of Software Architects’ New Zealand chapter and the New Zealand Computer Society in Auckland earlier this month.

“There is a major problem in the industry that there is a gap between business and IT,” Bernhard says. He suggests that companies first need to accurately understand their own business architectures — defined as a business’ components and mechanisms — before designing IT solutions.

“At the moment, there is too much concentration on the solution, and not enough concentration on the requirements,” he says.

Many companies can’t accurately define their current business architecture, Bernhard says. He holds workshops with an organisation’s staff to identify which staff know how to run the business without systems.

He suggests a “business architecting” process, including establishing the current architecture, a target architecture, and creating a “sequencing” strategy for moving an organisation to the target architecture.

The process results in a business architecture document, which describes the design of the current and target architectures, high level descriptions of the business, and descriptions of business components.

Each stage of the process is presented graphically, so that participants and management can easily see what is being described. “No one is going to have a different interpretation,” Bernhard says.

Completing the sequencing plan may take two to three years, he says. “It’s a lot to do with mindset. These things take time.”

Benefits include identifying business processes that are not documented, identifying duplication and of processes and effort, standardising on terminology, increasing internal communication, and having a much greater understanding of the operation of the business.

The process sometimes leads companies to conclude that their business structure is inefficient. “You may have to restructure the company in terms of structure and product lines,” says Bernhard.

Adopting a business architecture requires an organisation to better understand its own business model, allowing it to make more accurate requirements of IT, Bernhard says. “Senior business management needs to be involved and needs to be part of the group involved to implement an enterprise architecture framework,” he says.

“Business has to be more understanding [of IT]. They have to take accountability for their business structure.”

In turn, IT managers need to understand the business process before they can design a solution, he says. “Projects need to be evaluated against the business architecture.”

About 45 people attended the presentation, asking regular questions of Bernhard and van der Merwe.

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