The key to turning enterprise architecture into value is getting executive backing for a project that helps identify how the business can both save money and make money.
That’s the opinion of Stuart Jones, Head of Enterprise Architecture at energy company SSE, which is using specialist tools from technology firm Software AG to allow people around the organisation to understand the value of the applications they use.
SSE has implemented Software AG’s Enterprise Architecture Management tool Alfabet to both understand its current IT environment and to think about how it might invest in technology in the future. Jones explains:
We've gone beyond our original expectations – some of things the tool can do are not obvious at the start. There's some richness in there that you need to dig hard to find. And Alfabet is now integral to our work.
Before implementing the tool, Jones’ department was reliant on Microsoft Office. Much of the information it was providing to the business on the value of its application portfolio via was held in a single spreadsheet that his team knew as ‘The Beast’.
While it provided a comprehensive view of the application portfolio, it was difficult to manage and the team had decided it needed to make a move away from Office. They found business backing for the change in 2017, recalls Jones:
In a company that's got lots of competing reasons for investing in various tools, trying to make a case for an enterprise architecture tool, or making the case for integration platforms, is difficult. We picked a moment when SSE had started to get a bit more federated. And we knew we couldn’t get the information out without a tool and a system and a process that would really allow us to make a step change.”
The team undertook a thorough software scope and selection process. The team covered a range of factors, including understanding the business, aligning business and IT , managing financials, managing governance and risk, and changing the business. Jones says Software AG provided consultants to work out how they would help the business meet its targets in each of these areas. His team then procured Alfabet as a cloud platform:
With one eye on the future, we bought the lot, but as a SaaS service. That SaaS service is rock solid. We’re really pleased – we didn’t want another software deployment, so Software AG run it. And they’ve been absolutely on-point in terms of giving the service that we need.
SSE has implemented a range of software licences that allow some people in the business to edit information and others to view. To aid implementation, Jones also worked on cultural processes. This included giving Alfabet the brand name of PRISM internally, so that his team didn’t have to constantly refer back to the name of a technology tool:
A lot of what I try to do with Enterprise Architecture is to get our people out there and not be fazed by talking to people about what they do. We try and get a brand on what we do. And that brand name says what it does on the tin – we use Alfabet for Portfolio, Roadmap, Innovation, Strategy and Management, PRISM.
The team reached its minimum core target, which was to replace the pre-existing reliance on Microsoft with Alfabet. Added value now comes from using the tool at scale, which involves pushing the view of applications across the business in order to provide a clearer awareness of software utilisation and other potential opportunities:
This provides a much better engagement with the community. I’m now taking that information on architecture, saying, ‘Thank you very much’, and I can then promote that information to our data and analytics team, who might be looking for good information about data sources for analytics.
Jones says that being able to provide these kinds of benefits to the wider digital and data community within the business means his enterprise architecture team is able to “punch above its weight”. Rather than having to take a magnifying glass to an Excel spreadsheet in an attempt to understand how software assets are being used, there is now an instant view of how applications are being used – or not being used – across departments.
This quick view makes it much easier to think about where application rationalisation would make sense and helps to save the business money. While his work is focused on the current application portfolio, Jones would like to use Alfabet to do more work around business requirements:
I'd love to be doing more on projects and demands, and I’m actually lead for the demand management process. We're not yet fully in a world of project and demand portfolio management yet. But I can use Alfabet to explain how the application portfolio changes over time.”
The asset view isn’t just restricted to current applications. Jones’ lead Enterprise Architect uses Alfabet to create a roadmap that brings together applications and cloud services as a single, digital journey. When it comes to using Alfabet to create new value for the rest of the business, Jones recognises that the biggest barrier is cultural change:
Getting our people beyond the architect community, and to have the motivation to do some of those things, is is by far the hardest part – because you're talking about change management. Don’t underestimate the change management phase.
Jones believes the value of Alfabet is already being felt in more areas of the business than might have been anticipated. He cites the example of risk management and suggests that the tool provides insight on applications that might be at risk of obsolesce or ones that are ripe for digital enablement:
So I'm now trying to get the Chief Security Officer interested as a key stakeholder to show that we’re trying to protect our digital investment by having Alphabet. In that respect, the tool can do some of the heavy-lifting associated to the security point-of-view as we move towards a more digital world.