The short answer to this question is “The process of aligning Business and Information Technology priorities”.
At a more granular level its about making sure that what ever IT is doing has clear linkages to business objectives and the IT outcomes support those objectives. This clear mapping enables IT and business to understand each other by clearly stating how IT is supporting the business and vice versa.
Typically, most architecture frameworks consist of the following:
  • Business requirements and outcomes
  • Functionality requirements
  • Execution planning and staffing requirements
  • Technical design and requirements
Some companies are familiar with this framework and are accustom to managing IT in this manner but most are not familiar with it and don’t have the organizational maturity to realize they need it.
For an example where Architecture and Governance are lacking, a School District allowed Schools to be autonomous entities they no longer adhered formal purchasing guidelines and began building their own islands of IT – no architecture and governance committee. Today, the school district is pressured by reduced budgets, having to build shared managed services for the schools – the overall goal of provided children with the best learning environment possible. Not having an IT architecture and governance structure has placed the district and schools in contention with each other and has cost the district millions in duplication of IT technologies and staffing. The long road ahead will recentralize IT and its related functions and consolidate services and build and environment all schools can leverage in a more cost effective manner.
When a company has an Architecture and Governance framework, they’re able to clearly state the business requirement(s) and the architecture framework and its components. Budgets are derived from the Architecture to support technology, staffing and sourcing programs.
In this example, the business wants to adopt knowledge management disciplines to boost Intellectual Property, utilize collaboration tools to support a planned reduction in real-estate and mobile workforce. To accomplish this, the following Architecture is required:
  • Business requirements and outcomes – adopt knowledge management disciplines to boost Intellectual Property, utilize collaboration tools to support a planned reduction in real-estate and mobile workforce.
  • Functionality requirements – document mgmt, social networking, virtual meeting rooms, contact mgmt, project mgmt.
  • Execution planning and staffing requirements – phased approach to deploying technologies; 1) Five dedicated technical staff and project manager, 2) system integrator to assist with design, build, test and deploy.
  • Technical design and requirements – Portal platform for deploying applications, integration with; 1) document mgmt, social networking / staff directory, 2) virtual meeting rooms that provide presentation, chatting, voice and video and 3) project management. The IT infrastructure must support VPNs to remote sites (Homes, public hot spots, client office etc.) and 4) the user tools must support mobile working via laptops, cell phones and printers.
The key goals of solution architecture are:
  • Alignment of business outcomes with IT
  • Alignment of business soft expectations with IT
  • Knowledge sharing and cross polination
  • Project portfolio prioritization
  • Resource balancing and gap analysis
  • Budgetting (realistic)
  • Clear decision trails
Though simple example were provided in this blog, there are more detailed examples of architecture on the net that you can refer to. An architectural approach to projects results in better outcomes for companies in that management understand the linkages between business drivers and IT.
Some reading material: