Integrative IT planning and portfolio management

Issue 3, 2015

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Derive synergies from complex IT environments

Best practices in IT management were long focused on individual IT management disciplines with efforts directed towards defining and establishing processes, capturing the required data and implementing appropriate tools. This created efficient and effective, yet siloed practices within IT. Today’s digitization-driven business environment requires an agile IT that can deliver quickly. IT practices—including and especially IT planning and portfolio management—must strive for greater integration to meet the demands of digital business. Only an integrated IT environment can help maximize the benefits of automation.

IT management involves many disciplines

As IT has grown to become the technological underpinning of today’s business, so has the number of activities and products for managing its various aspects. They contribute greatly towards process efficiency and effectiveness, and IT staff depends on them to run a smooth ship. Working like a team of experts, each “specialist” system is focused on its own domain while collaborating with other systems to hand off and receive required information. Standards have done much to promote this interdependence, bringing greater synergy into the IT complex and greater value to the user. Only an integrated IT environment can help maximize the benefits of automation. Consider the following advantages:

  • Re-use of existing information
  • Minimal redundant data entry
  • Complete and current data
  • Reliable information base
  • Enforcement of procedures, policies and naming conventions
  • Interactive applications
  • Comprehensive views onto IT
  • Greater insight into interrelated data

IT portfolio management and IT planning – two integrative disciplines

Efficient and reliable IT planning requires insight into all of the relevant planning elements—demands, project proposals, architectural designs, human resources, corporate policies, business strategies and cost information—in order to quickly understand which plans are feasible and free of conflict. Much of this information is maintained by other sources so that any tool for IT planning must be well integrated with external sources in order for planning to be accurate.

Likewise, because IT portfolio management guides the direction and scope of change, and IT planning effects changes on the IT landscape, these two disciplines need to convey change information to other activities such as project portfolio management and enterprise resource planning, which then make the necessary adjustments at the detailed level. These symbiotic relationships, as shown in Figure 1, are what ensure unity and order in the IT domain.

Figure 1: Effective IT planning and portfolio management requires tight integration with other IT management disciplines.

Alfabet – the linchpin for business & IT alignment

Situated at the intersection of business strategy and IT strategy, Alfabet plays a central role in IT management, helping to determine how business capabilities are best supported, which projects to embark upon, which IT investments should be made, and how costs can be reduced. It presides over a multitude of interfaces to adjacent systems to ensure a complete and accurate information basis. Change information from other IT management systems is reliably propagated through to every occurrence of an artifact. Alfabet supports all standard and commonly used IT management products.

Data interchange

There are two methods for exchanging information between Alfabet and other tools:

  • Alfabet Web Services (SOAP and REST)
  • Alfabet Data Integration Framework

Alfabet Web Services are designed to allow direct access to the data stored in the Alfabet database from external programs that run on different platforms. Platform interoperability is based on either REST or SOAP. It enables service requests via HTTP to the Alfabet database from programs that are written using different programming languages and that run on different operating systems.

Using Alfabet Web Services for data exchange offers the following advantages:

  • Synchronous access: the Web service can be called at any time based on any kind of event
  • External interface: the Web service can be consumed from any external service or application via URL
  • Independency of data source and format: data management is part of the client implementation
  • Freedom of development: “unlimited” flexibility in usage of data and available operations

Alfabet Data Integration Framework (ADIF) is a configurable mass update facility for high-performance import, export and manipulation of large data volumes. High performance is achieved by performing data translation, formatting and writing in single database transactions. Configuration of integration solutions in ADIF is done using SQL, T-SQL or PL/SQL to provide users with a simple and well-established facility for defining the data integration.

Figure 2: ADIF is a configurable mass update facility for high performance import, export and manipulation of large data volumes.

ADIF provides automatic structure recognition for CSV, XLS, XSD and XML files whereby one import or export package can contain several data sources of different types. It provides visual design of import, export and data manipulation packages and a visual debugger to validate correctness of the implemented business logic in controlled step-by-step execution. Import, export or data manipulation jobs are started as a synchronous or asynchronous process and can be embedded in established enterprise integration solutions.

Using ADIF for data exchange offers the following advantages:

  • Fast data upload/modification: major parts of ADIF scripts are executed directly on the database
  • Transactional: all changes are executed within one transaction with full roll-back in case of an error
  • Various data sources: ADIF can process data from various sources at once
  • Various data formats: Microsoft® Excel® , CSV, XML, database and LDAP are supported
  • Development environment provided: ADIF contains a full development environment for scripts

As the integrity and consistency of data is of utmost importance in Alfabet, quality checks are performed by Alfabet during imports to ensure that inconsistencies and contradictions of data from the originating tool are not taken over. It is often the case that the originating data source permits data discrepancies due to lack of adherence to established modeling conventions. Alfabet compensates for this by enforcing correct input on its own. For example, if a class has start and end date attributes, Alfabet requires that the end date is later than the start date, which may not be the case for the tool from which such data is imported.

Product interoperability – Stay tuned

Beyond the scope of data interchange is the aspect of product interoperability. This provides the ability to extend the user’s point of view into the information base of another product and/or actually traversing from one product to another. Stay tuned for how Alfabet integrates with business process analysis systems in the next issue of TECHniques.