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The Business Forum Journal

 

IT ARCHITECTURE - FOR SMALL & MID-SIZED ORGANIZATIONS

By Steve Huhta

What is the IT Architecture Maturity Model?

 

This white paper is the third in a series discussing Information Technology Architecture (ITA) for small and medium-sized enterprises. In this paper, the IT Architecture Maturity Model (ITAMM) is both introduced and discussed.  Extremely flexible and adaptive in its design, the model delivers practical value to both large and small companies.  Value delivery is provided via a number of extremely useful “tools” that sustain the entire “lifecycle” of an architecture - i.e., implementation, on-going execution, and renewal.  Moreover, because the model supports the complete ITA lifecycle, any enterprise - whether or not it has already begun an architecture initiative - can benefit from understanding and using this model.

 

What is the IT Architecture Maturity Model?

In the mid-1990’s, the Frank Russell Company developed the IT Architecture Maturity Model to support the company’s new IT Architecture initiative.  Depicting how an organization’s level of IT Architecture readiness changes and matures over time, the ITAMM proved a powerful education, communication, self assessment, planning tool and directional “road map”.

Consisting of 6 stages (numbered 0 through 5), the ITAMM describes each phase through which a enterprise must progress in order to achieve an effective and sustaining IT Architecture.  The lowest level of readiness is Stage 0 and the highest level Stage 5.  The name given each stage characterizes both the degree of architectural readiness represented and the main effort being undertaken.  Additionally, each stage asks a question that epitomizes the architectural challenge associated with that stage.  Finally, the model highlights for each stage the business or architecture deliverables required to meet that challenge. See Figure 1.

Somewhat similar in concept to a ladder, an enterprise “climbs” the model increasing its degree of IT Architectural readiness and maturity with each higher stage.  However, unlike a ladder, it is possible for an organization to be at more than one stage at a time. For instance, when the Russell Company’s IT Architecture Department instituted a technology research effort (Stage 5), it soon discovered that the processes required to document and track each research project were not adequately developed.  As a result, the research effort was temporarily suspended while the inventory of outstanding projects was documented (Stage 1).  At the same time, additional processes were developed to ensure that research results were appropriately evaluated against Russell’s current IT Architecture standards (Stage 2).

Stage

Name

Asks …

Depends on 

5

Renewal

What’s next?

Continuous planning, research

4

Migration

How do we get there?

Plans, Funded projects

3

Advantage

Where does it lead?

Published Vision, Strategy

2

Alignment

Does it fit?

Published Architecture, Standards, Processes

1

Awareness

What do we have?

Documented “as is” environment

0

Chaos

What’s wrong?

 

Figure 1: IT Architecture Maturity Model

Let’s take a closer look at each ITA Maturity Model stage.

Stage 0:  Chaos

When in this stage, an IT organization may recognize that it has a problem but it is not sure what that problem is.  The organization asks itself “What’s wrong?.”  At the same time, corporate management is asking the question “Why are we spending so much time, money, and resources on Information Technology?”  A quick analysis at this stage would show that IT processes and decisions are informal and ad hoc.

Stage 1:  Awareness

The primary effort at this stage is to answer the question ”What do we have?”  The IT organization endeavors to find out what IT assets are owned by the enterprise and where they are located.  This stage tends to be concerned with “inventory.” The main deliverables emerging from this stage are a documented inventory and a description of the current IT environment.  Such a description would include physical assets such as PCs, servers, and monitors as well as an inventory of “soft assets” - e.g.,  software applications, IT contracts, and active IT vendors.

Stage 2:  Alignment

This stage looks at how well IT projects and initiatives are aligning against the IT organization’s published set of IT Architecture standards.  During this stage governance processes are established and the IT organization begins to get its arms around issues associated with missing standards, lack of technological consistency, and too much variety.  The governance question being asked is “Does it fit?”  Governance helps new IT projects leverage already installed technology while ensuring that exceptions to architecture and standards are implemented consciously and are appropriately documented.

As highlighted in the model, an IT Architecture, or at least part of it, must be at Stage 2 before the governance process is established.  Until published standards are in place and review processes established, governance can not occur.  Why?  Because the question “Does it fit?” necessitates the existence of a comparison benchmark.  This benchmark is the published ITA standards.

An organization may choose to phase-in its ITA governance.  For instance, governance may initially be concerned with only a few types of ITA standards.  In this way, the governance process need not wait until all standards are defined and documented.  (This is especially important if setting certain IT standards will help address particular “hot buttons.”)  Then as new standards are established - whether they be hardware, software, or procedures - governance can expand to cover these new “topics.”  Besides enabling faster ITA benefits, such a stepped governance approach helps build support from with those most affected by both new standards and the governance process itself.

Stage 3:  Advantage

The Advantage stage concerns the degree that technology investments support the enterprise’s business direction and requirements. Investments that align with business needs ultimately lead the enterprise towards an advantage in performance - whether that advantage be speed, quality, customer service, or so forth.  As a result, during this stage, senior management is asking “What business value is coming from our investment in IT Architecture?” while the IT organization is asking “Where are IT investments leading the enterprise?” 

To successfully carry out this stage, the IT organization must understand of the enterprise’s vision and business strategy.  Such an understanding is essential if IT technology is to support the enterprise as it proceeds in the direction of tactical and strategic objectives.  Another way of describing this stage is: if the Alignment Stage was about selecting the correct type of ladder, the Advantage Stage is about making sure that the ladder is leaning against the correct wall.

Stage 4:  Migration

This stage deals with the “business of IT” and how well the IT organization is running its projects and other activities to move the enterprise to where it needs to be.  Leveraging the organization’s vision or business strategy identified in the Advantage stage, the Migration stage’s goal is to answer the question “How do we get there?”  Critical to this stage are funded IT projects, project plans, and the IT organization’s internal processes.  The primary question of corporate management is “Are new IT projects appropriate and being well managed?”

Stage 5:  Renewal

The top stage of the model considers maintaining an organization’s competitive advantage by ensuring that it’s IT Architecture is “fresh” and relevant.  During this stage the IT organization addresses the question of “What’s next?”  Moreover, IT is also attempting to look at “what comes after what’s next” - all in connection to the enterprise’s vision and direction. A refreshed and updated architecture results through technology reviews and innovative research.  This stage also is an excellent time for the IT organization to compare itself against other IT organizations of both its industry and direct competitors to determine how well its efforts to maintain a competitive advantage measure up.

Using the IT Architecture Maturity Model

The hallmark of the IT Architecture Maturity Model is it adaptability and flexibility.  These traits enable the ITAMM to support both large and small enterprises.  Furthermore, the Model also supports new IT Architecture efforts as well as established initiatives.  This ability to fit different situations makes the model a valuable tool for small and medium sized enterprises.

Each enterprise is unique and the circumstances surrounding its IT Architecture initiative are different from those of other firms.  Consequently, enterprises require tools that operate within and support its particular IT Architecture situation.  The ITAMM answers this challenge.

The four means by which the ITAMM provides support and value include:

  • Education Tool

  • Communication Tool

  • Planning Tool

  • Self assessment Tool

Education Tool

Architecture is not an easy concept to communicate.  While not entirely eliminating this problem, the ITAMM simplifies the IT Architecture concept.  This simplification occurs in three ways.  First, the model introduces ITA a having a “life cycle.”  Consequently, architecture is shown as both evolving over time and providing value even when only partially complete.  Second, the model presents ITA as a journey rather than as a destination.  In other words, an ITA effort is never “done.”  Rather, an ITA reflects the ever-changing enterprise, its business drivers, and business environment.  Finally, the model provides a view of the enterprise’s current IT situation and a vision of where an architecture will lead.

Being able to educate business management about architecture in general and IT Architecture in particular greatly helps in building the business case necessary to obtain the funding required to begin an ITA initiative.

Communication Tool

Corporate politics often inhibit implementing an ITA.  Overcoming such challenges requires careful planning and communication.  As a communication tool, the ITAMM builds executive support by conveying several messages.  The first message makes known that ITA initiatives require an inclusive team composition.  Specifically, the necessary body of architectural knowledge for implementation and ongoing support must come from across both the IT organization and business units.  This inclusive participation message helps eliminate perceptions that the architecture initiative will be an IT “ivory tower” effort.  Another message is similar to that mentioned above regarding “Education Tool.”  That is, an ITA effort is a journey and thus requires funding not only for implementation but, also, for ongoing administration and maintenance.  By bringing both short and long term cost commitments to the forefront, the model helps avoid the specter of cost surprises coming down the road.  Lastly, the model communicates the clear message that there is a ITA implementation strategy and that this strategy includes both tactical and strategic objectives.

All these messages build senior management buy-in for an ITA effort.  Such buy-in is essential to obtain funding and to acquire participation from the appropriate technologists and business specialist from within the enterprise.

Planning Tool

The ITAMM really shines as a high-level roadmap providing a vision where the organization’s IT Architecture is headed over time.  By recognizing where the architecture is headed, the enterprise can focus the scope of the initiative and develop improved budgets and resource strategies.  Also, understanding the scope enables establishment of priorities and action plans that direct effort - saving money and other limited resources.  Likewise, these action plans establish managed expectations on the part of senior management.

All in all, the architecture team is better able to together juggle long-term strategic issues with immediate needs.  What's more, architectural deliverables - both immediate and ensuing - can be identified at the outset to establish credibility by harvesting some “low hanging fruit.”  These deliverables can actually comprise important components of the business plan.

Self Assessment Tool

Because understanding one’s architectural readiness and maturity enables the ITA team to adjust and refocus both resources and effort, an self-assessment tool is crucial for the success of any ITA initiative. For example, if the ITA project team can monitor progress against enterprise “hot buttons,” a determination can be made as to how well certain tactical deliverables are being completed.  These tactical deliverables often comprise the “low-hanging fruit” promised as part of the ITA funding request.  Hence, “harvesting” particular low-hanging deliverables will constitute a major selling point when requesting additional ITA funding. 

The ITAMM is just such a self-assessment tool.  It provides the means to review one’s own architecture, determine its maturity level, and to assess its readiness.  Equally important, with the model the ITA need not be viewed as a single monolithic entity.  Rather, the architecture’s component parts (e.g., standards, processes, deliverables, etc.) can each be assessed individually.  This ITAMM characteristic enables the rapid redeployment of resources and effort to achieve tactical results while targeting strategic goals.

Yet, performing these self-assessments over time is a difficult task. Architectural self-assessments demand that the IT organization consider its own particular and changing situation. At the same time, the enterprise’s similarly evolving situation must also be taken into account. Conveniently, the ITAMM assumes that both the architecture and the enterprise situation are changing and developing over time.  Hence, the model greatly simplifies self-assessment.

Summary

Organizations of any size can utilize the IT Architecture Maturity Model.  The model’s unique flexibility and adaptability supports successful IT Architecture implementations by helping the enterprise save money, plan implementation strategies and resource requirements, perform architectural readiness self assessment, and, perhaps most importantly, communicate the concept of architecture while building executive support.


Steve Huhta is a Fellow of The Business Forum Association. He was (until he retired) the Contracts Manager with the Contracts Services Department of the Russell Investment Group.  Steve holds a BS in Computer Science (with distinction) from Washington State University, an MBA from Pacific Lutheran University, and a Masters Certificate in Commercial Contract Management from George Washington University. Steve's career includes 30+ years of experience in Information Technology across a variety of industries - including aerospace and forest products - and for both large and small companies. His experience includes application development, business IT planning, process change and improvement, development and management of customer centric support and help organizations, definition and implementation of IT-focused internship programs, IT asset management, IT innovation planning, IT metrics, IT Architecture, and contract management. Steve volunteers his time to advise non-profit organizations during their planning and acquisition of computer technologies.


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