Enterprise IT architecture is difficult to launch due to its frequent positioning as a technical endeavor. In reality, it's a prerequisite for evolving business models and strategies, including the real-time enterprise.
CIOs and architects often struggle to obtain business leader buy-in for enterprise IT architecture (EITA). This is generally a result of how the benefits of architecture are positioned, as well as business leader mistrust of anything that potentially diminishes their autonomy. The key to obtaining business commitment to architecture is to justify it in business -- not technical -- terms. Too often, IS leaders confuse the capabilities of a technical architecture with the business capabilities that it enables. EITA exists solely to facilitate modern business models and strategies. The benefits of these business models and strategies -- not the innate abilities of a systems integration architecture, for example -- provide the justification for investment in and adherence to an architecture. Chief among these emerging models and sources of justification is the real-time enterprise (RTE).
The RTE is fundamentally about squeezing lag time or "information float" out of core operational and managerial processes. Business has long understood that time is money and speed is a competitive advantage. However, "time" is taking on new meaning as access to markets and talent pools becomes global, and as innovation cycle times and product life cycles shrink. The ability to remove latency or lag times from key business processes, to extend processes globally to "follow the sun," and to access real-time financial, managerial and operating data will increasingly separate industry leaders from also-rans. In time, RTE capability will be a requirement for staying in business.
Supply chain strategies provide an excellent example of the RTE in practice, and illustrate its dependencies on architecture. A thorough understanding of this type of RTE initiative and its importance to business leaders will help IS leaders translate EITA capabilities into business benefits and justifications.
Figure 1 illustrates a hypothetical manufacturing supply chain with raw materials and work in progress (WIP) moving between various parts of the world to take advantage of global, best-in-class partners or other economic advantages of a region.