Strategic Commissioning and Enterprise Architecture

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.

It’s all just Business

For those who don’t know me – I work as an Enterprise Architect in Corporate ICT for Devon County Council – The challenge for an Enterprise Architect is to focus on the whole Business and not just the IT function or service – we are employed to facilitate Transformational Change across the whole Business. Not an easy job as such but a very interesting and challenging one.

So for me what I do is ALL about the Business of the County Council.

I have recently posted (a collaborative effort with Martin Howitt) on our team blog about the wider implications of the changing landscape of corporate ICT and how that effected our ability to realise cost savings to the scale we hear about and need to deliver.

But we must first address some key issues and get organisational acceptance to some basic building blocks of Effective and Efficient organisations.

IT offers no value on its own. It really is ALL about the Business. The people outside of IT (Business People) are the people in control of the organisation and they specify the priorities and direction through strategy. So why don’t they control IT more effectively? Why isn’t there one Governance stream in an organisation – Business Governance?

IT governance is really business governance. In many organizations, IT has led the way in implementing governance over critical decisions related to strategy, business architecture, investments, change, programs, risk and sourcing. Over time, organizations have realized that decisions in these areas need to be coordinated across the enterprise and have elevated and consolidated these activities outside and above IT.

Via – HBR – What does the future hold for IT?

In the team post we talk about how core IT competencies need to be mainstreamed into the Business. What we really mean by this is that Business Leaders should have the skills and competencies to procure IT solutions, manage IT contracts and drive value from the investments they make – not just in IT.

Another issue which is critical is how will the current Heads of IT or CIO’s deal with the current financial situation.

I see two options in local government:

  1. Drive cost savings, innovation and transformation in the organisation through radical approaches to ICT delivery and infrastructure.
  2. Play safe and wait for someone in the Business to make the decision for them

If I were a CIO or head of IT, i know which one i would rather opt for as Option 2 pretty much spells “outsourcing” to me.

The following presentation covers the CIO dilemma well and is worth checking out.

A new kind of Council Web Strategy

You should know that the local authority web manager has a pretty hard job and is often stuck in between a rock and a hard place. Often with no budget, no resources, but yet still required to manage a service delivery platform, communications platform and a citizen engagement channel. How do i know this, well i used to be one.

Anyway i wonder whether the strategies that are created for local authority websites (i am assuming that some are created here) are focusing on the right thing?

The reason i say this is that i often hear that local authority web managers and web teams have issues around web ownership, web governance, web resources and acceptance by the wider organisation that the corporate web site is a key access channel and so on. So what should change for this mind set to be different.

What i think we need is a strategy for the web channel that actually talks about “Exploiting” the channel for business benefit and value creation and not a strategy that focuses on how we will build it, what technology we will use and what level of security we will apply. These are of course very important things but in my view should actually be contained within your organisations ICT Technical Strategies and not within the web strategy.

So what would a Strategy for exploiting the web look like?

I recently read a book called “Fruition” by Chris Potts and it was a very good read, it is actually about the wider ICT agenda but there are major lessons for web and web strategists as well as corporate strategists.  I recommend reading it if you are remotely interested in ICT, Web and Technology in organisations. The following is an extract about the book:

The Scenario

What happens when corporate strategists decide to take over the IT agenda, ignore all the IT Strategy orthodoxies and use it in ways that the IT specialists never intended? What are the consequences for the strategy, the Chief Information Officer (CIO), the company’s IT people and the investment plans for IT?

Whilst reading the book i also thought about the lack of this kind of strategy during the eGovernment  Agenda and it made me think about the current Government ICT Strategy –  Are we creating the wrong kind of strategy again? I think we do need a strategy for how we will implement technologies and decide what technologies to use and adopt and whether we will use cloud services or develop and Service Oriented Architecture (SOA), but it seems to me that what we lack and maybe one of the real reasons ICT has not aligned itself with the business is because it struggles to present its strategies in terms of exploitation and value creation.

I used the example in the book and made a quick and dirty attempt at a generic web strategy for any local authority and this is what i came up with. (If you read the book, you will notice i haven’t really changed that much).

The challenge of course is to work within your organisation to make this strategy work. I recommend you read the book to understand the journey and implications of developing this kind of strategy within the wider ICT environment. But i think if you do those things you will end up in the same place and will want to move forward with this kind of strategy.

This is not yet a reflection of the County Council Web Strategy and there would be a little bit of work to do before we could get this adopted, but this is not a major challenge and will be something i will work toward. It is of course a completely different way to look a strategy in local government and one which i think will make us more corporate and work towards the agreed priorities and direction that the council has set in the strategic plan.

Local Authority Web Strategy

Strategy Promise (outcome)

  • We will maximise the value we create for citizens, staff and stakeholders from all our investments in the Internet, digital technologies and the World Wide Web (WWW).

Key Principles (truths)

  • Our strategies and business plans depend, in part on us successfully exploiting the use of the Internet and the World Wide Web.
  • Value is a portfolio of measures and is whatever the Council’s strategies and operating plans say it is.
  • Each directorate/department is accountable for the value their part of the organisation creates from investments in the internet and WWW.
  • The Internet and WWW is a multi-disciplined function and service platform and requires a collaborative and unified approach to achieve value.
  • The Corporate Web Manager is accountable for the total value that the organisation creates from all our new investments in business change involving the Internet and WWW.

Core tactics (actions)

  • Plan and execute our investments in exploiting the web by starting with value creation and working backwards
  • Focus our investments in exploiting the web on those types of value that are vital to our strategies and where we can make the highest contribution
  • At business unit and corporate levels, proactively manage the total impact of change made from investments in the Internet and WWW.
  • The Corporate Web Manager should lead on Internet and WWW development and activity.