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Focusing Modernization Through Business Integration

The business integrator helps organizations create more mission-focus in their digital transformation life cycle.

As the federal government moves to achieve its digital transformation goals, agencies and the chief information officers (CIOs) responsible for integrating new technologies should adopt a business-focused approach that ensures the delivery of mission value.

While federal CIOs are typically excellent at executing the systems development lifecycle (SDLC) with a focus on systems integration, digital transformation requires a closer look at how CIOs and business partners engage to create new technology. How a system and its processes create value for an enterprise in supporting the mission is a core component of business integration, explains Jonathan Edge, a director at KPMG and one of the firm’s Federal Technology Enablement leaders.

Business integration is a strategy with the goal of synchronizing core information technology (IT) roles with business partners objectives to align technology with mission strategy and goals. It also highlights how an organization makes use of IT systems as a function of its business.

The CIO’s dilemma

In the federal government space, CIOs are the designated experts with knowledge on building, creating and maintaining technology. But while they are experts at developing and deploying systems to meet the business requirements of their partners, digital transformation requires broader perspectives to introduce digital technologies that enable user adoption, create efficient processes, and support compliance and controls. The variety of systems and business integration activities required for a successful digital transformation requires CIOs to rethink how they are executing their SDLC, Edge said.

“We often hear CIOs push their business partners for the requirements, not the solution,” he said. “The problem with that is there’s an inherent assumption that the business is going to understand the types of technology solutions available and is equipped with the subject matter expertise to define requirement that meets all aspects of today’s technology needs.”

This means that an agency could potentially have mission partners who are responsible for their business processes and may have some understanding of the technology needed to accomplish transformation from a process perspective, but there are a variety of components to digital transformation that may not be sufficiently considered. This includes business process reengineering, IT and financial audit compliance, attracting or enabling users to adopt a technology, or managing the value of a new technology. These skillsets are not typically inherent to the experiences of the business partner, but are still critical to today’s technology and transformation journey.

Because of the complexity of systems development and integration, it isn’t enough for CIOs to simply focus on the technology. “Federal business process owners are not typically equipped with the variety of expertise and experiences necessary to address all aspects of digital transformation and often need some direction from their partners in the CIO,” he said.

What federal organizations should do is complete a review of their resources, capabilities, strengths and weaknesses and adjust their digital transformation strategy accordingly. Edge noted that CIOs are accustomed to this type of self-evaluation and understand their resource constraints, typically filling capability gaps with services contracted through industry.

Likewise, organizations and CIOs need to apply the same rigor to integrate business functions, and to find ways to fill gaps, either in-house or through contractor support, he said.
Interconnections between business and systems integration

Business and systems integration activities should be complimentary and symbiotic. The systems development life cycle methods leveraged today, such as the waterfall, agile methods and hybrid approaches, require strong business and IT function to support a healthy overall systems development activity, Edge said.

Ideally, people from both the business and technology sides of the process should be in near-constant communication with each other.

“In a perfect world, you’d have your systems integrator come equipped with their subject matter experts at the table articulating the ‘art of the possible’ of what the technology can accomplish to help facilitate the perspectives of the business partners as they create the requirements for the new technology,” Edge said.

These two respective groups would then co-create to envision what the technology must accomplish—not just to complete the mission or business requirement, but to do so in the most efficient, effective and compliant way possible. This engagement would also focus on questions like what values do both parties want to drive towards, what are the key performance indicators and metrics to measure and evaluate the technology’s effectiveness.

The business integrator would come equipped with the knowledge of the business and be able to translate business needs into technology solutions while also able to apply business process reengineering expertise and lean strategies for process efficiencies as part of the technology solution. Additionally, he noted that the engagement would define requirements and how to approach issues like user adoption or the user experience aspect of the technology’s requirements, and what federal policies or regulations the technology must be designed to meet.

“The thesis here is that you have to perform that introspective review of your organization and plug the gap. If you’re only plugging the gap from a systems integrator perspective, then you’re missing a whole component of a successful digital transformation activity,” says Edge.

Without that review of IT and the business, the technology being created or integrated may not meet all of the mission’s requirements. “It’s going to only meet the requirements of the mission for the subject matter experts that were in the room at that moment in time,” he explained

Such conversations don’t usually happen today, or at least not in a way that fully benefits both parties. While a systems integrator will talk to a business or mission community group, Edge notes that the business or mission partner typically hasn’t been coached or trained on how to best prepare for a digital transformation activity or technology development activity. Due to this, there may be missing perspectives when requirements are defined.

“Often they go out to market and plug those gaps through contracts with industry. We don’t see that same activity happening on the business side. We don’t see them saying, ‘Do we have somebody that knows change management? Do we know somebody that knows human centered design? Do we have somebody that knows business process reengineering, value management, compliance, controls, etc.?’ Let’s plug that gap either by finding somebody in our organization that knows that stuff, or going out to industry and procure it,” Edge said. An important consideration is that CIOs aren’t technology developers but technology enablers, Edge explains. “The CIO’s mission is not to create IT for IT’s sake. It is to enable the business through technology. I think it’s the CIO’s job to educate and articulate how to construct an SDLC in such a way that is ultimately going to be successful for all parties,” he said.

Focusing modernization through business integration

The federal government is currently focused on modernizing and transforming its IT infrastructure. The government is busy making its business functions more digital to speed and streamline operations.

Business integration fits in with CIOs modernizing an organization for the sake of the business and its partners with new technologies. “It is the acknowledgement of the federal government’s desire to digitize business, to digitize its mission,” Edge said.

This makes it very important for CIOs to consider a business integration approach to their systems development lifecycle, especially in light of the changes expected to occur with the use of more modern digital solutions across the federal government.  

A major driver of this change occurred in 2017 and 2018 with the introduction of Robotic Process Automation (RPA) technologies that automates what Edge calls “swivel chair activities” —low value administrative functions. Federal agencies moved to adopt RPA in the wake of a White House memo that described leveraging the technology to increase the amount of high value activities organizations can spend their resources on.  

With the advent of RPA, Edge said agencies began discussing how many automations have been developed in their environment. “Agencies would market that their RPA program developed a certain number of bots completing swivel chair activities across our organization today,” he explained. “While an interesting metric, it isn’t the quantity of bots that really define the impact of RPA on an organization—it’s the number of hours that the organization has saved.”

“Organizations that focused on defining and refining an SDLC process for RPA development that considered both the business and systems integrator functions were able to measure the impact of those functions through the hours savings per bot, as opposed to organizations that only measured how many bots they had deployed,” Edge said.

A business integrator would focus on reengineering an end-to-end process and not just look to automate a single swivel chair activity that might not be as lean as is could be. Additionally, a business integrator should be able to perform functions like value management.

“What is the value that we’re deriving and how do we measure that? If you’re considering a value management function, then you are looking to create a systems development life cycle team of systems integrators and business integrators that are explicitly challenged with how to increase hours saved. So, let’s go and construct automations that are going to achieve that goal,” Edge said.

KPMG is proficient in both business and systems integration, Edge explained. He noted that the company can do systems integration work if that is what is needed by clients, but sees the business-oriented approach of business integrator as a critical missing component to today’s digital transformation activities across the federal landscape. KPMG’s knowledge of client’s mission and business, as well as having broad and deep understanding of technology, makes KPMG a proficient business integrator.

“Not every organization is going to have that business-oriented tilt to support the variety of business integrator activities necessary in today’s SDLC,” Edge said.

contact: Jonathan Edge, Director
(571) 218-8770