IT strategy at ACC has become much more an integral part of business strategy formulation than it was as little as two years ago.
Previously, a separate IT division served the needs of the business. Now all strategising for development, IT and non-IT, is done within the same unit of the organisation.
What ACC is trying to do as a business is more tightly coupled with the resulting IT strategy, says general manager of development Murray Young.
This shared direction accompanies a realisation that IT is much more an essential enabler of the operation. “We have gone from finding IT useful [in the execution of business plans] to being totally dependent on it.
Helping to achieve this is the organisation’s expanding use of The Open Group Architecture Framework (Togaf). ACC has been using Togaf for five years, initially to set the basis for its IT architecture. It has now pushed the discipline “higher” to guide the business architecture of the operation and the flow through from business to IT.
“The IT architecture has now got to come from the business architecture,” says ACC architecture and standards manager Jeff Cornwell; “from the initial idea of what kind of business we want to be.”
ACC worked from the vision of its desired business structure five years ago – following the upheaval of being privatised and renationalised. It identified gaps between the system as it stood and the eventual goal and worked the picture of these up into a statement of Information Systems Strategic Intent.
This then passed to a third-party consultancy, which did a “blueprint” setting in place enterprise-wide definitions of the people functions and the information systems.
This was still prior to the stage of choosing definite software frameworks. The ACC was still faced with the choice of a principal database management system and whether to establish a predominant J2EE (Java) or .Net (Microsoft) direction.
Building the architecture with the help of a framework such as Togaf “has given us a longer-term vision”, says Young. The discipline of going through a formal process has given ACC confidence that the architectural decisions and the reasons for them are well founded. “It’s given us guidance for some of the kinds of decision we used to make intuitively,” says Cornwell.
Using Togaf over the long term tends to encourage ever closer involvement of business staff with the decisions that guide IT, Young says. Togaf expert Vish Viswanathan says use of the discipline goes in cycles. “When you started taking the architecture to business they express interest. As you make choices they get more involved,” says Young. “Vish says it takes about three cycles to get the discipline really bedded in. We’ve reached the end of the first and are starting on the second.”
One of the outcomes of the discipline is that ACC has been able to move from a substantially internal focus to increased involvement of external parties such as the employer and the general practitioner. Togaf giving confidence that consistent “templates” have been defined to ensure ACC’s systems will fit smoothly with the way the other parties conduct their business.
ACC currently has an RFI out for a new claims system, and Young admits a good enough package offering might be slightly at odds with the architecture and the latter may have to be amended slightly to fit in.