Thoughts on Systems Integration, Business Intelligence, & Operational Efficiencies
I’ve been reading quite a bit about enterprise architecture recently, specifically its role in systems integration. The proliferation of disparate enterprise systems at organizations of all sizes has resulted in the amassing of huge amounts of data that is not easily analyzed and thus leaves organizations without the ability to synthesize the data into intelligence and use it to inform strategy. Opportunities for operational efficiencies are also missed because these enterprise systems reside on islands with limited abilities to communicate with other systems. Data is defined inconsistently and housed redundantly, which increases costs and lowers margins.
There are myriad reasons why so many organizations are in this position: the migration to the digital age was/is an iterative process–cost often prohibits the implementation of more than one enterprise system concurrently; enterprise systems are often designed to streamline operations of a particular business unit without regard to how data will be pulled out of the system and without regard to how data will reconcile to existing systems; management by spreadsheets and other rudimentary tools is ingrained in the culture of organizations that are reticent to change what “works”.
Established organizations are not agile enough to scrap existing systems and implement a service oriented architecture, or a wide-spanning enterprise resource planning system like SAP. Even an incremental process would take years to accomplish. It is not a battle worth fighting as technology will surely outpace implementation.
Establishing a Center of Excellence (COE) that is responsible for signing off on all new systems and integration projects is a good first step toward making an integrated organization. From the perch of the COE, an Enterprise Architect can survey the entire landscape and make informed decisions with regard to which systems are implemented, integrated, patched and upgraded when and how it happens. Reporting directly to a top executive but with responsibility for considering the operational and reporting needs of all business units, the COE’s charge is massive. The need for COEs has arisen from the incremental nature of systems implementation in addition to the often politically-charged if not haphazard, myopic methods of implementation.
Creating the COE allows IT to focus on operations and profit centers to focus on the business. Though not a panacea, the work of the competent COE will result in operational efficiencies and an opportunity to synthesize data to cultivate true business intelligence.