Strategic Commissioning and Enterprise Architecture

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I suspect like many other local authorities in this financial climate, there will be a great deal more talk about commissioning services and the role of Strategic Commissioning in enabling councils to reduce costs but also ensure the needs of the communities we serve are  still being met.

So like any other curious person I started to read about Strategic Commissioning and how it differs from procurement and traditional purchasing. A colleague of mine sent me a link to a slideshare presentation which i found very useful in helping me understand the difference. Some slides are hard to read but the diagrams are what really helped me.

I also did what most people would do, I conducted a few google searches around “What is Strategic Commissioning” and this is where I found that it started to get really interesting, especially because some aspects of what Strategic Commissioning does is what Enterprise Architects do, well at least in the broad definition anyway. I am in no way saying that they are the same thing, but I’m sure both disciplines could benefit from understanding the methodologies of the other.

The results of my google search gave me the following:

Strategic Commissioning is the activity that ensures the vision and strategic objectives of the organisation are aligned and assessed against customer needs for the short and long-term.
It is the process of translating local people’s aspirations and needs through specifying and procuring services that deliver the best possible outcomes and makes best use of available resources.

Strategic Commissioning is a continuous cycle of:

  • Analysing the need for change through joint strategic needs assessments;
  • Planning the change;
  • Enabling and acting on the change;
  • Ongoing review of progress against required outcomes.

It is also worth acknowledging that Strategic Commissioning skills will be critical when trying to understand how the Big Society will work in your local area.

I know there are many, many local definitions of Enterprise Architecture and they are just as much organisational and context specific, but I suspect most people could agree that the above is pretty similar in strategic terms.

To illustrate my point I include a definition for Enterprise Architecture as defined in my Job Description here at the Council.

Translate business vision and strategy into effective change within the Council and its partners. To do this the Architect will need to understand the people, processes, information and technology of the Council, and their relationships to one another and to the external environment

Now one of the key fundamental differences that currently exists between the two roles is that Enterprise Architecture is still see very much as a discipline within IT.

Enterprise Business Architecture roles would in my view get more involved in shaping the strategic commissioning side of things, but in some ways why is this still seen as a separate function from Enterprise Architecture? Surely you can’t get any more strategic than “Enterprise”? Or maybe I have completely misunderstood the whole thing?

Methodologies that Enterprise Architects employ could well add a huge amount of value in the strategic commissioning field  – I don’t know enough to say whether or not they use these similar methodologies or not.

One good example of this would be Capability Modelling

Gartner analyst Mark McDonald posted on the Gartner blog: Capability is more powerful than Process and gives a nice explanation of capability thinking which i feel provides an example of how we in the public sector could think about and apply Business Capability Modelling to support Strategic Commissioning.

iTunes illustrates capability thinking.  First off, iTunes is build from a collection or resources: the Internet, digital rights management software, the store, the delivery vehicle (iPod) and a set of relationships with artists and record companies.  Sure there is a process in there, but the process of how you sell digital media is not the focus, the outcome is the focus that lead to assembling a range of resources – most of which Apple did not own or exclusively control.

Process advocates and devotees will say that I am mincing my words, but look at the relative value of the physical supply chain the music industry invested so much in and the business value flowing through the alternative capability.  There is an advantage in thinking broader and beyond processes.

The good news is that process thinking is an integral part of thinking about capabilities.  It is just that capability thinking opens the door to new combinations required to create outcomes, rather than to support process steps.

The interesting connection for me is that in the above scenario we could see ourselves as “Apple” as we require the capability of other stakeholders to drive forward a strategic set of outcomes that come from our Community Strategy. We have the Community Leadership Role, the question is are we really prepared to use it in this way to deliver the right outcomes for people.

What we need to understand better first is what capabilities we have and those of our Partners and stakeholders. We also need to truly understand what outcomes we are trying to deliver and the value they create.

Another aspect to this would be to ensure that we could explore what it would mean to model the capability of our communities and the civil sector in support of the Big Society.

All of this requires much more thought and I’d welcome feedback and thoughts from anyone on this.

What all of this make me think about is that the synergy points to the kind of skills and disciplines that CIO’s will need to become part of the strategic leadership of organisations and especially in Local and Central Government.

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