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Understand and control your technology systems

Understand and control your technology systems

30 April 2020

Sonya Weiser

In the current scary and uncertain time of the COVID-19 pandemic it's easy to feel as if everything is out of your control. Getting to grips with the complex technology of your business allows you to understand and control your systems and information.

As your business grows and evolves so do your technology systems, often to a point where they are complex and difficult to maintain and control. This has only been exacerbated by office staff working from home during the pandemic.

Once you fully understand your current systems you can ensure you have appropriate security and disaster recovery strategies in place. If for example you're relying on cloud-based systems, you need to be sure whether the software provider is backing up your data and what steps need to be taken to recover your data in case of a disaster.

You'll have heard the term ‘data is the new gold' and be aware of the importance of protecting and using the valuable data your business collects day to day. Corporate information, used at the executive level for strategic decision making, is created by combining day to day data into one picture for the overall business.

Enterprise architecture techniques and diagrams provide the perfect tool for understanding the data and systems you have in place now and imagining how your technology and systems could be improved in the future.

If your business has slowed down during the pandemic, why not take some time now to fully understand your systems and prepare for the exponential increase in business when things get back to normal (whatever that is!).

Whenever I start work with a new client, I use enterprise architecture diagrams in workshops with stakeholder groups to understand the needs of the business. A picture's worth a thousand words and enterprise architecture diagrams are no different, they are great tools for communication and clarification of what's needed in a business.

Enterprise architecture goes beyond technical diagrams of systems and infrastructure, it provides the big picture of how the people, systems and processes fit together to keep your business humming.

In this blog post I'll talk about some of the diagrams I find useful when working with new clients. There are of course many other tools and techniques you can use to understand your business, I encourage you to read further and use what is best for you.

There's an art to gathering this information and creating enterprise architecture diagrams. It's easy to get caught up in too much detail and end up with diagrams that are too difficult to be understood by everyone and aren't useful for maintaining and improving your technology.

And if all this sounds a bit nerdy and boring, don't worry, I'm here to help. My super-power (so I've been told) is to take the complex and simplify it, and I love creating clear and easily understood enterprise architecture diagrams.

Please get in touch with me if you'd like my help to better understand your business data, technology and systems, I'm always happy to meet and have a chat over a (virtual) coffee.

Enterprise Architecture tools and techniques

Enterprise architecture is made up of the following elements, each of which can be represented and explored in diagrams and descriptions:

  • Organisation architecture
  • Business architecture
  • Information architecture
  • System architecture
  • Infrastructure architecture

Organisation architecture

The aim of modelling organisational architecture is to broadly understand the business and the people involved, both within and outside the business.

Firstly, before diving into the technology and systems of a business it is vital to have a clear high-level understanding of the way the business operates. It is worth taking the time to identify what your business does well for customers that is hard for competitors to copy. This provides focus on where your business should focus its energy (and money) in the future.

The business model diagram is a useful tool for understanding the high-level structure of your business.

To understand the people involved within the business an organisational hierarchy chart is a good place to begin for a business that has a traditional hierarchical structure.

Another technique that's helpful for understanding who's involved in a project or ongoing operations is a stakeholder diagram, which allows you to include internal and external groups of people.

Business architecture

Once I have a broad understanding of the people and business of a new client, the next tool I rely on is business process model diagrams. This allows me to explore the processes are that are required to run the business and provide products and services to customers.

Work-shopping business process model diagrams allows us to explore whether there are any processes that don't help provide value to customers, or that are needlessly inefficient.

The business process maps I create use ‘swim lanes' to allow separation of which teams are involved in each step of the process, represented by rectangles. Decision points are always clearly defined with only a yes/no outcome and represented by diamonds.

Understanding the processes of the business leads to an understanding of the data collected and stored, often in many disparate system databases, spreadsheets and documents. Corporate information, used at the executive level for strategic decision making, is created by combining all the data into one picture for the overall business

Information architecture

To understand the information architecture of a business, we explore these questions:

  1. What pieces of information are collected in each business process?
  2. Are there overlaps in data collection processes between different areas of the business?
  3. Is there data that's entered and stored in multiple places, for example in documents, websites, spreadsheets and system databases?
  4. How accurate must each piece of data be?
  5. What is a tolerable amount of time that the business can do without the data?
  6. Who is authorised to have access to business information, how confidential is it and what would be the consequences if it was leaked?
  7. How is all the data sifted to create overall corporate information, that can be used for strategic decision making?

The modelling technique I use to workshop these questions with clients is a simple data flow diagram, illustrating what happens to data during processing:

A more detailed representation of how data within a system's database is stored can be created using an Entity Relationships diagram. Creating these diagrams forces you to understand how each individual piece of information, such as the first name of a patient, is stored in the system and how the information is related to other pieces of information in the database.

System architecture

Once you have a good understanding of how data flows around your business and the process and people involved, you're ready to create a diagram that illustrates the software that is involved.

I use application architecture diagrams as a tool to show how software systems (applications) fit together with databases and technology platforms. These diagrams don't aim to delve into the details of how each system works in the application layer, they're created to understand what the system needs to operate correctly. This ensures if you make any changes to your technology you don't remove any resources or mechanisms that are needed to keep everything humming along nicely.

Application architecture diagrams are also very useful when exploring ideas for changes. Also referred to as solution architecture diagrams, they're used to explore different options for new systems before approaching software vendors to decide on the ideal solution provider.

Infrastructure architecture

The final element of enterprise architecture are diagrams that illustrate the nuts and bolts of technology, the infrastructure and network diagrams.

When you have a complex network of technology within your business combined with cloud software providers and people working from home offices, it is important to understand how all the technology is networked.

Network infrastructure diagrams illustrate the underlying infrastructure and security elements – switches, routers, firewalls, servers and end-user devices.

Need help?

Please get in touch if you'd like my help to better understand your business data, technology and systems. I'm nerdy enough to really enjoy using enterprise architecture tools, I love creating clear and easily understood enterprise architecture diagrams!

Get in contact with me today, I'm always happy to meet and have a chat over a (virtual) coffee.

Further Reading

Business Analysis Body of Knowledge (BABOK) guide, available at: https://www.iiba.org/standards-and-resources/babok/

EA Approaches, available at: https://internationaleainstitute.org/ea-approaches/

A practical guide to developing enterprise architecture, available at: https://www.ibm.com/developerworks/rational/library/enterprise-architecture-maximum-value/

Stakeholder analysis, available at: https://www.pmi.org/learning/library/stakeholder-analysis-pivotal-practice-projects-8905

Business model canvas template, available at: https://www.edrawsoft.com/template-general-business-model-canvas.php

Data flow diagram, available at: https://www.rff.com/Data_Flow.php

ER diagram tool, available at: https://www.gliffy.com/examples/er-diagrams

How to become a network infrastructure mapping expert, available at: https://www.lucidchart.com/blog/network-infrastructure-mapping

Sonya Weiser

Sonya Weiser

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