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Issue of October 2003 

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Real-Time Enterprise

Working at real-time for efficiency

Greta James, Research Director, Enterprise Architecture and Application Integration, Gartner, tells what a Real-Time Enterprise (RTE) is. And how a good enterprise architecture is instrumental in moving an organization towards RTE. by Minu Sirsalewala

What according to you is RTE, and what does it offer?

Real Time Enterprise is an organization that uses up-to-date information to progressively remove delays in managing and executing its critical business processes. Not every process in a RTE is instantaneous, but it should remove delays progressively.

RTE is profoundly important to the future of global business and fundamentally depends on architecture. Enterprises should understand how important its architecture is to the business, and need to position it in terms of the business problems it solves.

It's also important to look at the time it takes to extract vital information from its core processes.

This will help provide the business case and performance targets necessary to achieve business leader commitment.

What role does enterprise architecture play in enabling RTE?

RTE can help an organization deliver certain business benefits. Capturing and quantifying these benefits provides a business-based justification for implementing an enterprise architecture. It is however important to understand that new business models may require new or ongoing architectural investments.

IT advancements make new business capabilities possible, and the pressure for new business capabilities fuels investment in IT. There is a symbiotic relationship between the two. If the business expects to accelerate its operations and critical decision-making by leveraging IT, it's IT investments may also need to accelerate to take advantage of rapidly evolving capabilities.

Any new technology will in-turn, require periodic reconsideration of architectural frameworks and constructs. Often, CTOs confuse the capabilities of a technical architecture with the business capabilities it enables. The architecture exists solely to facilitate modern business models and strategies.

How do you define a good or an efficient enterprise architecture?

An architecture that works in partnership with business is considered a good architecture. When a project is being proposed the architects should be involved from the beginning. The proposal should put together the solution and take into account all the technology aspects of the organization.

Adherence to enterprise architecture involves a balance between the short- and long-term goals and between the goals of individual business units and enterprise-wide goals.

A good enterprise architecture is not purely a technical undertaking. Although many technical challenges need to be resolved, the success of architecture is primarily dependent on the way in which it is managed.

What kind of architecture will be needed to enable a RTE?

There is no out-of-the box architecture, which will enable RTE. It is an ongoing process. An ideal situation is where IT has made possible critical decisions regarding business, and there is trust and a sense of partnership between business and IT. Part of the success is in removing delays from business processes.

In the 80s companies used large data models, which were isolated from business realities. Today, IT needs to be in partnership with the business, and the company has to decide on the areas it needs to be focussed upon.

How can enterprise architecture address business needs?

Though an effective enterprise architecture addresses the needs of an individual enterprise, it must also take into account interactions with other enterprises, namely the virtual enterprise.

An IT architecture promises significant benefits. A major benefit is lower IT costs through economies of scale in purchasing, reduced training, lesser support staff, and simpler upgrades. Savings estimates could range from 10 to 20 percent of infrastructure costs. Another benefit is improved system operability through simplified interfaces and data sharing.

Other benefits include improved scalability, agility, security management, backup and recovery, fault tracing and rectification, software distribution, testing and configuration management.

What are the typical obstacles one faces while moving towards this kind of architecture?

It varies depending on the nature of a business. If a business is consumer-based, the infrastructure is a huge challenge. If you have good control over your infrastructure, it is easier to have the desired architecture in place.

The RTE architecture is not free of challenges. Designing and deploying an IT architecture is time-consuming and expensive. An IT architecture means a long-term commitment to a continuous update process.

What are the industry verticals that have begun using RTE architectures?

The global leaders in deploying this kind of an architecture are the financial services organizations, particularly wholesale banking and merchant banking. Earlier, during equity trade, money was available five days after the trade but now it has moved to a t+3 and lately to a t+1 settlement scenario. All this has been accomplished in a remarkably short period because there is total control over the infrastructure.

The telecommunications industry used to face delays in processes. For example, if you applied for a new connection you had to wait for a few days before the services were activated. But today you walk out of the shop with the activation.

The services industry companies have been early movers, but will face challenges to move towards this architecture, This is due to the nature of the related business processes and infrastructure.

Minu Sirsalewala can be reached at:

Enterprise architecture management best practices
  • Look at what is needed as a process. Follow it up by planning a good project. The project must comply with the architecture.
  • A characteristic of a successful architecture is its link to the business processes.
  • One must use business processes to communicate the benefits of enterprise architecture. Obtain agreement from the management for a high-level process on which to focus the implementation of architecture frameworks, standards and guidelines. Now use this process to prioritize the allocation of scarce architecture resources.
  • List the types of projects that can undertake architecture compliance self-assessment.
  • All other projects must gain a sign-off from the lead enterprise architect.
  • Document the process for approving exceptions to the architecture. List the criteria that will be applied in reaching approval like TCO, QoS, impact on business strategy, and short-term business benefits.
  • Include reassessment of architecture compliance within the project change approval process.
  • Initial project approval may be subject to review of key deliverables like high-level design documents, selected detail designs, and sign-off at implementation time.
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