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5 Reference Architecture “Resolutions” for 2015

Barton KaplanBy Bart Kaplan

Corporate IT departments find themselves in a paradoxical position entering 2015. On one hand, the outlook for IT budgets hasn’t been brighter in a long time. According to advisory firm CEB, IT spend is expected to rise 3.3 percent this year, the most since before The Great Recession.[1]

On the other hand, the expectations of IT organizations have never been greater. Some three-quarters of company initiatives depend on technology to one degree or another. If central IT can’t meet demands for greater speed, agility, and cost-effectiveness, business partners will procure their own solutions, spurred on in part by the falling prices and increasing maturity of cloud and Everything-as-a-Service (XaaS) offerings from third-party vendors. According to Gartner, 35 percent of technology spending is expected to occur outside the central IT organization this year,[2] led by Finance, Human Resources and Marketing departments.

The challenge faced by IT is that in addition to myriad new business projects, they must also attend to legacy technology systems and environments. These uninteresting yet critical “keep the lights on” activities suck up close to 60 percent of IT budgets.[3] That number is coming down, but not fast enough to accommodate for all the technology requests from various parts of the business.

One way IT can square this circle is by making better use of reference architectures (RAs), some of the most scalable and cost-effective tools in the IT toolbox. Among developers, however, RAs don’t have the most stellar reputation. Commonly heard complaints are that they are difficult to understand, hard to adopt, and often out of date.

What exactly are reference architectures? They are much more than pretty pictures. It’s easier to think of RAs as a kind of ecosystem of resources rather than any one thing (see figure below). Their ultimate purpose is to help solution delivery teams make better design and technology choices. At a time of exploding “shadow IT” and changing IT paradigms, the need for effective RAs is more important than ever.

Figure: Reference Architecture Toolkit

reference architecture toolkit
Source: CEB – Enterprise Architecture Leadership Council


If done right, RAs can deliver substantial benefits to both IT and the business. One large financial services organization I worked with saw infrastructure standardization increase from 30 percent to 70 percent, and delivery times decrease by 75 percent, over a two-year period. By some estimates, RAs can reduce IT budgets anywhere from two percent to upwards of 15 percent.

The most mature practitioners take the following five steps to ensure their RAs are successful.

  1. Manage reference architectures across their entire lifecycle. Most of the focus typically falls on the build phase. But the ongoing maintenance of RAs, and eventual decommissioning, are critical to their usefulness, especially in fast-changing areas like mobility and cloud.
  2. Evaluate reference architectures as a portfolio. Many RAs are developed in a reactive, one-off fashion. In order to make the best use of limited resources and maximize benefits, reference architectures should be viewed holistically, using formal criteria to evaluate and prioritize them. Those criteria should be revisited over time, as capabilities grow and business needs evolve.
  3. View reference architectures as brands. To achieve greater RA adoption, it’s essential to consider reference architectures from the customer’s perspective. They should be easy to find, understand, and use―which in most cases they are not. By putting a consumer lens on RAs and viewing them more as individual brands, some of the most common adoption barriers can be avoided.
  4. Include implementation advice. RAs are most frequently owned by enterprise architecture (EA) groups, whose focus tends to be on higher order elements such as principles, standards and patterns. But without decision guides, prototypes and reusable source code―all of which make these higher order resources easier to implement―the chance that RAs get instantiated in actual solutions is low.
  5. Federate RA ownership. One of the reasons why EA groups fail to develop prototypes and provide source code is that their resources are limited. But responsibility for RAs need not―nor should not―reside in EA groups alone. Rather, ownership should be distributed out to subject matter experts across the organization. This will increase buy in, and substantially expand the capacity of the organization to build and maintain a full RA ecosystem.

[2] Gartner, Inc. “Predicts 2014: Application Development.” Brian Prentice, David Mitchell Smith, Andy Kyte, Nathan Wilson, Gordon Van Huizen, and Van L. Baker, November 19, 2013.

[3] Ibid, Footnote #1


Bart Kaplan is a business solution strategist with VMware Accelerate Advisory Services and is based in Maryland.

How to Keep Your IT Strategy from Becoming Shelfware

By Barton Kaplan

Barton KaplanWe’re living in tumultuous times. That sounds like a cliché, but a cursory glance at the most recent headlines and earnings news bears it out.

Technologically, we’ve moved from the mainframe, to the client-server, and now to the mobile-cloud era, with tremendous implications for both the sellers and consumers of enterprise technologies. Recent geopolitical events have shaken long-held assumptions and created new uncertainties.

Together, this combination of forces has made the work of an already beleaguered group within IT – strategic planners – even tougher. And it’s not as if things were going swimmingly prior to this latest wave of change. When advisory company CEB surveyed business partners about IT strategic planning, a meager 23% agreed that it was effective.[1]

But as tempting as it might be to fire your IT strategist and declare planning dead, 93% of those very same business partners also said they thought IT strategic planning was important.

Which begs the question: In a time of unprecedented change, how do you keep your strategy from becoming shelfware?

Leading organizations I’ve worked with employ the following three best practices to ensure their IT strategies stay relevant:

  1. Embed scenarios into strategy. It’s standard practice to align IT initiatives to business goals and objectives. In today’s environment, however, it isn’t enough to align to a single outcome. An automotive company I worked with looks instead at a range of possible outcomes, listing best case, worst case, and most likely scenarios. Each scenario is then heatmapped against the current IT portfolio to understand the potential impact. As a result of this exercise, project cycle times were reduced by up to three months.
  2. Define strategic triggers. To increase the agility of its strategy, a financial services company began to include possible economic, business, and IT events (e.g., an acquisition, a new product launch, etc.) that would require revisions to its roadmap. They go so far as to list specific actions that need to be taken should any particular event actually come to pass.
  3. Make it a living document. Strategic plans are especially vulnerable to quickly falling out of date and losing their currency. Too many organizations place a lot of emphasis on and resources behind the creation of a strategy, but don’t adequately think through how that strategy will be maintained and refreshed going forward. Effective strategies require ongoing care and feeding, which only happens when owners are named and responsibilities clearly spelled out.

In times of constant, radical change, maintaining both focus and flexibility will ensure your strategy stays relevant.


[1] “Flexible Strategic Planning,” CIO Leadership Council Webinar, June 2014.


Bart Kaplan is a business solution strategist with VMware Accelerate Advisory Services and is based in Maryland.

5 Tips to Successfully Adopt End-to-End IT Services

By Barton Kaplan

IT organizations are at a crossroads. More technology savvy business partners, combined with compelling third-party cloud service offerings, are leading to an explosion of “shadow” IT. Gartner estimates that 35 percent of all technology spending will occur outside of IT by 2015.[1] As a result, traditional IT organizations face a stark choice: 1) fundamentally transform their operating models to win back the confidence of the business or 2) maintain the status quo and become full-time caretakers of the legacy environment.

In response, IT organizations have initiated efforts to roll out various XaaS offerings — infrastructure, platform, software, database, disaster recovery, and so forth. This is a necessary step, but ultimately insufficient. It will be extremely difficult for internal IT organizations to compete effectively in commodity-oriented services with external providers given the scale, low costs, ease of use, and rapid innovation they can bring.

IT organizations shouldn’t view these services as the end point, but rather as a stepping stone to end-to-end IT services. CEB defines end-to-end IT services as the “packaging of all the technologies, processes, and resources across IT needed to deliver a specific business outcome.”[2] Rather than offering separate services, applications and infrastructure organizations come together to offer integrated services (e.g., collaboration).

End-to-end IT services bring inherent advantages, including:

  • More closely aligned to the business
  • Focused on business and not IT outcomes
  • More cost efficient
  • More differentiated than XaaS offerings

When implemented successfully, the results can be dramatic. CEB estimates annual IT budget savings at 17 percent. One high tech company that adopted end-to-end IT services was on target to reduce “lights-on” spending as percentage of the total budget by nearly 50 percent over five years. An insurance company I worked with saw a 250 percent increase in spend on innovation.

So how do IT organizations get there? Achieving end-to-end IT services is a multi-year journey, not a flip of the switch. To reduce the risk of increasing irrelevance, however, IT needs to start now. Here are five proven tactics that leading practitioners have followed to successfully implement end-to-end IT services:

1)     Pursue an evolutionary approach, not a big bang. Successful organizations focus first on a single service that they can roll out enterprise-wide, or a willing business unit around which they can develop an initial set of services.

2)     Define your services based on business capabilities. Don’t define your services in terms of technology, but rather the business outcome they can impact. The most effective means to do so is through business capabilities.

3)     Adopt the goldilocks principle when it comes to the service portfolio. Not too many, not too few. A handful of services is likely too few; more than a couple dozen services is likely too many.

4)     Govern and prioritize based on services, not projects. End-to-end IT services require a fundamental change to the IT operating model. Projects don’t go away, but they are subservient to the needs of the service, and no longer the primary means through which business needs are met.

5)     Manage end-to-end services like a product in the marketplace. Service owners ought to act like product managers, not operations support. Key measures of business value should be based on adoption rates and service use.

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Bart Kaplan is a business solution strategist with VMware Accelerate Advisory Services and is based in Maryland.



[1] Gartner, Inc. “Predicts 2014: Application Development.” Brian Prentice, David Mitchell Smith, Andy Kyte, Nathan Wilson, Gordon Van Huizen, and Van L. Baker, November 19, 2013.

[2] CEB CIO Leadership Council, “The New Model for IT Service Delivery”, 2012

5 Tactics Leading IT Organizations Use to Realize the Promise of Business Capabilities

by Barton Kaplan

Almost every IT executive I speak to these days is actively working toward becoming a service provider, and for good reason. VMware survey data[1] indicate that the benefits can be powerful. IT as a service organizations are 37 percent more responsive to requests, invest 50 percent of their budgets in innovation and realize operational cost savings of 30 percent, among other benefits.

But a necessary prerequisite to achieve this status is good IT-business alignment. In order for business partners to feel confident having their service requests brokered through IT, they have to believe that IT understands their needs, that IT strategy reflects business priorities, and that IT will ultimately choose a service provider that best meets their specific requirements.

Unfortunately, this is where many IT organizations fall short. CEB data[2] shows that only 18 percent of business leaders believe IT prioritizes the investments that are most important to them. To align to the business, IT has typically focused either on business strategy or business processes. But business strategy is often too high-level and changes too frequently. Business processes, meanwhile, are too granular and function-specific to be meaningful at the enterprise level.

So how do IT organizations overcome this impasse? Many IT executives I’ve worked with have embraced business capabilities to bridge the divide between IT and the business. Simply put, business capabilities are activities an enterprise performs to achieve specific business outcomes. They are more stable than business strategy, but at a high enough altitude that they can be understood across the enterprise.

Despite their promise, business capabilities are no panacea. IT groups that have embarked on business capability initiatives struggle to realize a return on their investment. Their issues usually fall into one of the following areas:

  • Hard to define: Attempts to create business capability models can quickly become theoretical exercises and use language with which business partners are unfamiliar.
  • Hard to engage: Frequently when these efforts initiate out of IT, business partners become skeptical of the value and are unwilling to take ownership.
  • Hard to execute: Once a business capability model is in place, it should actually inform IT investment decisions. Most often, it does not.

To address these challenges and realize the true promise of business capabilities, leading IT organizations are adopting the following five best practices:

  1. Build business capabilities collaboratively. Successful capability models cannot be built in isolation. If business partners are expected to own the business capabilities, then they have to be involved in the effort to define those capabilities from the outset.
  2. Recognize that capabilities go beyond technology. Without a holistic understanding of what enables a business capability, it’s easy for an IT organization to default to a technology solution when the problem may lie elsewhere. One utility company I worked with that adopted a business capability-based approach went into the exercise thinking that 70 percent of its business issues were technology-related. It came out realizing that in fact only 30 percent were. The other 70 percent revolved around people and process issues.
  3. Prioritize capabilities. Putting together a capability model is a necessary but insufficient step. In order for business capabilities to become meaningful for planning purposes, they must be prioritized. A large government agency I worked with heatmapped its capability model by looking at the strategic importance of a capability and its maturity.
  4. Tie business capabilities to IT services. To ensure the services that IT creates will actually be consumed by end users, those services need to be defined in business terms. Instead of building services from the bottom up based on technology, they should be built top down based on the business capabilities they are designed to enable.
  5. Include business capabilities in IT roadmaps. To raise business confidence that IT investments will be directed to the most important business priorities, all IT programs should be mapped to business capabilities. At one financial services organization, this resulted in 2.5 times more IT spend on strategic initiatives.

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Barton Kaplan is a business solution strategist with VMware Accelerate Advisory Services and is based in Maryland.


[1] VMware “VMware IT Evolution: Today and Tomorrow – Insight from the VMware 2013 Journey to IT as a Service Study.” August 2013
[2] CEB 2013 Business Engagement Assessment Survey

Big Data: Big Opportunity or Big Challenge?

By Barton Kaplan

We are undoubtedly living in the era of big data. For any doubters, McKinsey estimates that the amount of new data that enterprises around the world stored on disk drives in 2010 equaled 7 exabytes, growing at a compound annual rate of 40 percent.[1]

The opportunities for enterprises to leverage this data abound, at least in theory. In the retail sector alone, McKinsey estimates that big data could raise operating margins by a whopping 60 percent.[2] And in US healthcare, the potential benefits are as much as USD $300B annually.[3] Further, venture capital is flowing to a slew of new startups that are creating tools and algorithms that can parse data at scale.

But the reality inside enterprises paints a different picture. The biggest misconception with big data is that the sheer volume means there is more meaningful insight to be had. But as Nassim Taleb has convincingly shown, as the amount of data goes up, the signal to noise ratio goes down, by as much as 200 times.[4]

This phenomenon is reflected in corporate survey data. In a poll of over 8,000 employees by CEB, only a third indicated that the information they needed to do their jobs was available. And less than half said that corporate sources of information were usable.[5]

Meanwhile, at a time when over 80 percent of employees at the typical organization are now considered knowledge workers, fewer than 40 percent have the combination of analytical skills and judgment needed to use that data to drive better decisions,[6] without which no value can be gained. Data scientists alone can’t make up for a capability gap across the broader employee base.

So how do organizations tackle the myriad information management challenges that big data has exacerbated so they can realize some of the benefits? In my work with companies, the following four tactics have proved effective:

  1. Elevate the importance of information: One large financial institution put information on par with people, process, and technology as a discrete enabler of business capabilities, leading to a fully funded, five-year information management strategy and roadmap.
  2. Develop differently for data: At a major insurance company, IT leadership replaced their software development lifecycle with a data-centric development lifecycle for information-intensive projects.
  3. Make data analysis user-friendly: IT can no longer keep up with business demand for reports and dashboards. Instead of being the bottleneck, work instead to expose corporate data in a secure yet user-friendly manner so employees can quickly and easily generate their own reports. At one organization I worked with, they set up an interface modeled on Amazon’s with the motto “shopping for data.” The result was a 50 percent reduction in support staff time to deliver analytic services.
  4. Upskill your people: Rather than trying to land a few hard to find, expensive data scientists, focus instead on raising the skill sets of the 8 out of 10 employees in your organization who are considered knowledge workers. This starts with an understanding of the profile of an employee with high “insight IQ.” Try the following quiz to see if you fit the bill.

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Barton Kaplan is a business solution strategist with VMware Accelerate Advisory Services and is based in Maryland.


[1] McKinsey Global Institute, “Big data: The next frontier for innovation, competition, and productivity,” June 2011.
[2] Ibid.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Nassim Taleb, “Noise and Signal—Nassim Taleb,” Farnam Street Blog, 29 May 2012.
[5] CEB, Business Outcomes from Big Data, Webinar, March 2014.
[6] CEB Enterprise Architecture Leadership Council, “Overcoming the Insight Deficit,” 2011.

Taking IT Out of the Shadows

by Barton Kaplan

Wikipedia defines shadow IT as “systems and solutions built and used in organizations without explicit organizational approval…by departments other than the IT department.” It’s been a sore point for central IT organizations for a long time, and judging from the most recent data, it’s only getting worse.

Gartner predicts that by 2015, 35 percent of technology spending will occur outside the central IT organization[1]. In a US$2.7 trillion industry[2], that’s a big number. What’s worse, CIOs consistently underestimate how much the business spends on technology. According to best practices firm CEB, business partners spend almost twice as much on technology as IT estimates[3].

Why is this happening? Recent technology trends compound the prevalence of shadow IT, and putting increased pressure on central IT to keep pace.

  • Business partners have become more tech savvy and are much more willing to take on technology-related activities. From technology evaluation to vendor management, some two-thirds of business executives express a willingness to lead.[4]
  • With the maturation of cloud and XaaS offerings, it’s easier than ever for the business to go around IT to meet its technology needs. And vendors are targeting these business buyers because they typically purchase more and procure faster than IT departments.
  • Across industries, technology is viewed as more critical to enterprise success and competitive differentiation than ever before.
  • As business speeds up and third party providers improve their ease of use, central IT is  perceived as getting even more slow and bureaucratic.

What’s worse, traditional approaches to managing shadow IT simply don’t work anymore. Historically, central IT has reacted to shadow IT in one of three ways:

  1. Police – Attempt to root out and shut down shadow IT. The reality in today’s enterprises, however, is that the vast majority of central IT groups simply don’t have the stature to adopt this approach, or the authority to enforce it. Further, much of this spend is business-sanctioned and viewed as essential.
  2. Ignore – Turning a blind eye to shadow IT isn’t an option either, given the size of the spend and the potential risks to the enterprise of it going completely ungoverned.
  3. Incorporate – Bringing shadow IT into the central IT organization is actively opposed by the business out of fear that it will result in lost agility and innovation. Fifty percent of business technology spending is on innovation, which is three times the size of IT’s innovation budget.[5]

So what should IT do? First and foremost, central IT organizations need to adjust their mindset. The days when shadow IT meant hiding a server under your desk are long gone. Today’s shadow IT has become much more sophisticated and central to the business.

IT organizations need to accept and advise business partners’ experimentation with technology, not resist it. Progressive practitioners who have had success changing their technology relationships with the business are adopting the following three tactics:

  1. Distinguish between healthy and unhealthy shadow IT. At one consumer products company, the IT organization differentiated between “shallow” vs. “deep” IT when determining whether a project should be business or IT-led. This more cooperative approach resulted in a 52 percent increase in IT investments directed at new opportunities.[6]
  2. Change IT’s perspectives on risk. IT’s typical approach to risk is one of mitigation. Less risk is always better. By contrast, business partners look at risk vs. reward tradeoffs. If the reward is great enough, it may be worth the risk. Leading IT organizations are adopting risk management frameworks that capture this more nuanced view of risk.
  3. Improve business perceptions of IT. IT needs to operate at the speed of business and devote more of its budget to innovation. According to VMware data[7], customers who are running IT as a service spend 50 percent of their budgets on innovation vs. an industry average of just 30 percent .

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Bart Kaplan is a business solution strategist with VMware Accelerate Advisory Services and is based in Maryland.


[1] Gartner, Inc. “Predicts 2014: Application Development.” Brian Prentice, David Mitchell Smith, Andy Kyte, Nathan Wilson, Gordon Van Huizen, and Van L. Baker, November 19, 2013.
[2] The New York Times. “Hard Times Could Create a Tech Boom.” Quentin Hardy, November 17, 2012.
[3] Corporate Executive Board (CEB) webinar: “Getting to Healthier Shadow IT.” January 9, 2014
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Ibid.
[7] VMware “VMware IT Evolution: Today and Tomorrow – Insight from the VMware 2013 Journey to IT as a Service Study.” August 2013.