Project Description

A large distributor of electronics had made 18 acquisitions in a short time and become a global distributor. Combined with organic growth and the concurrent increase in vendors, customers, and other business partners, this overwhelmed their information systems and their ability to interoperate across their enterprise.

Their unique position in the supply chain that had allowed them to add value by acting as the focal point between multiple vendors, resellers, and end-users was quickly becoming a liability. Most of IT had been divided up amongst the business units to better meet immediate and pressing needs – one problem and one solution at a time. While there were many competent experts for each problem and each solution, there was little understanding of the whole enterprise and even less holding it together. Enter a new CIO.
The new CIO recognized that he would have a short-lived opportunity to assess the situation before jumping into the fray and he seized upon it. He realized that a conceptual information model of the enterprise would be a key element in any plan to untangle the web, reduce maintenance cost, and focus on the strategic opportunities and challenges that faced the company. In his discussions with his executive colleagues, he made the conceptual model a “must-have” for moving forward with confidence. Chateaux provided the expertise and experience gained through multiple information architecture engagements at companies of all sizes. In a mid-sized company, it is important to move fast. Chateaux created an enterprise-wide conceptual information model, with a contextual model showing how the big picture hung together, and an enterprise-wide logical data model.
This set of models now serves as the centerpiece for all discussions about information and systems efforts at the company. The higher level components are used in the annual capital planning process and the mid level models are used in discussions of information requirements and process improvements. During the course of the engagement, several sources of disconnection in the company’s “language” were identified and unraveled. Definition of products, categories, components, and serialization were an ongoing problem that was resolved. The complexity of contact management in a company that sits between so many parties and is governed by so many agreements was also resolved. Because the information elements and their relationships are unambiguously defined, including examples, these models serve as the final arbiter in any disagreements that arise.

The enterprise logical model is maintained in a data modeling repository, and is used to painlessly initialize the data architecture for any system development or database implementation project, and ultimately, to generate the database directly from the model. Chateaux went through a contact management project with the developers to show how data architecture makes projects start faster, finish better, and stay aligned with the enterprise. The new CIO resisted the temptation to spend all his effort jumping in and fixing things; rather, he commissioned a set of models that provide consistent and clear guidance. He is not blindsided by simple sounding projects that explode in scope, due to hidden data issues. When multiple projects are proposed that focus on small parts of the same thing, he can push for a single solution. A data service hub, based directly on the enterprise logical model, is now being proposed to replace a myriad of difficult to maintain, peer to peer interactions.

An enterprise data architecture project can run for years, pursuing perfection. Chateaux’s philosophy is that an architecture should be put into use when it is “good enough”, and then adjusted over time. Our experience allows us to quickly build a model and to know when it is good enough to use. To paraphrase General George S. Patton: “a good plan, violently executed, is far better than a perfect plan that sits on the shelf”. These models, covering the entire information content of the enterprise, and their initial uses were completed by Chateaux in four months.