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A pragmatic approach to Enterprise Architecture

By Paul Whimpenny, Senior Officer for Digital Strategy in the IT Division of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations | Oct. 5, 2016
I was charged with figuring out how to deal with our IT spaghetti. Here’s what we did

I used that support, and also brought in external technical expertise to accelerate the build, and within six months we had a stable platform and had built several prototype use cases on top of it. For example, we demonstrated a simple travel request, approval and reporting app which used the platform to access, process  and update the equivalent planning, financial and reporting data held in three different and difficult to program systems.

Having built the platform, the next question was how to get buy-in from the business units owning the major IT systems, especially those used to working independently. For this, I realized we needed external expertise again, both to help us through the decision making process and to provide a neutral facilitator for some tough conversations, so I recruited an independent Enterprise Architect to review the architecture of our major technical systems and recommend a way forward.

We approached that exercise as a series of workshops over a one week period, inviting business units to multiple sessions. In this way, we obtained a better understanding of the business concerns and identified some unexpected priorities, such as the urgent need for a Reference Data Management system.

Business units also understood, when faced with the gory details of the spaghetti-like mess that had been created, the need for change and a new approach. The resulting report received universal support and planning for implementation is now underway.

As one business representative said, “the lack of a coherent IT architecture was a hard nut to crack and one the organization had failed to do for more than 20 years.” Instead of trying to tackle this through the political channel of management committees or complex architectural frameworks, we have instead managed to shine the light so compellingly on the problem that the organization could do nothing but support the change.  

One result of this process is that IT has gained credibility within the organization and is being looked at to drive further change.

Does this mean I can now dust off my copy of Enterprise Architecture As Strategy or sign-up for training in TOGAF or the Zachman framework? No, instead we plan to move on, and, having resolved some of the key aspects of the back-office corporate IT services, we have set up a Digital Strategy team to build on the platform approach and to promote more innovative and strategic use of IT Field projects in developing countries. All of which means that IT can make a greater contribution in the organization’s mission to end hunger in the world.  

And to me, this Digital Strategy work is just another way of doing Enterprise Architecture, but in a way the business understands and supports, and without scaring them with all those IT acronyms.


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