Business IT Decision Making

Launching a new technological capability is a very complex endeavor. Decision makers have a huge challenge to become familiar with every aspect concerning the preparation, creation, deployment, integration and use of their technological capabilities. This is no small undertaking and isn’t something that can be accomplished without some help.

If you’re a pilot and fly airplanes like I do, you will be very familiar with the Federal Aviation Regulation (FAR 91.103) which states “Each pilot in command shall, before beginning a flight, become familiar with ALL AVAILABLE INFORMATION concerning that flight. This information must include…” (I’ll paraphrase to spare you deciphering the legal mumbo jumbo and to keep it brief) —

Weather reports and forecasts, fuel requirements, alternatives available if the planned flight cannot be completed, and any known traffic delays, runway lengths at airports of intended use, takeoff and landing distance (i.e. are the runways long enough?), any navigational beacons that may be out of service along your intended (or backup) route of travel, the affects of any medications you may have taken (both on the ground and at altitude), all navigational and communications frequencies along your route, optimal engine temperatures, mechanical condition of your air craft, the maximum cross wind component of your aircraft (and all other performance characteristics at all altitudes), notices to airmen about things like live missile testing or high-speed military training, etc. etc. the list goes on.

Making a flight in an aircraft is a complex affair that begins long before you ever climb into the cockpit – arguably long before the pilot got his or license – back in the bay before the first maintenance log entry was made. Imagine what it would be like to KNOW all of this for every flight without a very robust decision support structure!!

As a pilot, it takes me about five hours on the ground to prepare for every one hour of flight. The more experience and support teams you have, the less time this takes. Here are some of the items that are at my disposal – and I use – every single time I fly. If a check against any one of these items leads me to believe my flight won’t be completed safely, I abort the flight. Of course, there’s a saying that helps me keep me focused: Lawyers screw up, client goes to jail; Doctors screw up, patient dies; ATC screws up, pilot dies; Pilot screws up, pilot dies… but I digress.

  • Pilot Information Manual – this tells me everything I ever need to know about the aircraft I am flying
  • Aviation maps – these are extremely complex diagrams that are absolutely packed with useful information
  • NOTAMs – Notices to Airmen about things going on along the route of flight
  • PIREPS – reports from other pilots about actual in-flight conditions
  • Weather Reports – much more than what you get from the weather man, these include expert discussion about flight level winds, icing conditions, ground fogs, etc. These tell a pilot about fuel burn, what altitude to fly, what the exit strategies are, etc.
  • Air Traffic Control, Ground Control and Weather Stations
  • Flight Instruments and a Flight Calculator
  • Federal Aviation Regulations (what to do, how to do it, when to do it, etc)
  • Personal Experience
  • etc etc

If I had to re-create all of these support tools from scratch every time I wanted to fly, I’d never get off the ground! Building a flight calculator alone would take me a few weeks – IF I got some help – a LOT of help.

Launching a new technological capability is also a very complex endeavor. Decision makers have the same responsibility to be familiar with ALL AVAILABLE INFORMATION concerning the preparation, creation, deployment, integration and use of their technological capabilities. A few questions that might come to mind when preparing:

  • What technologies are available to field this capability?
  • What technologies are most compatible with what’s already out there?
  • What is the standard data structure for each field used to process the data I need to process?
  • What else might my technology need to interface with either now or in the future?
  • How will deployment of my technology solution affect others who consume or create data within the same ecosystem?
  • How does applying resources to this project affect the overall Enterprise’s ability to deal with priorities?
  • etc etc

This kind of analysis is just not possible without a support structure. Certainly a room full of senior leadership can’t be expected to know all of this on their own without support.

One of the things that makes my support structure as a pilot so effective is the fact that every other operator in the airspace system is using the same information I am. Everyone is on the same page, so to speak, and we all speak the same language.

In the Department of Defense, this is the point of having a DoD Enterprise Architecture, a DoD Enterprise Transition Plan, and standard DoD Investment Review and Annual Review processes. These tools are support structures for decision makers. They are codified in a standard notation, apply to everyone, and should be accessible to and used by everyone to help them make go/no-go decision about Business IT investments.

It would be silly for me to have to write to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) every time I want to take a flight, right? So, they publish a standard set of documents and tools and get those into the hands of every pilot in the country. We’re taught how to use them and are held responsible for the outcome of every flight we make.

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Joe Boutte

Enterprise architecture is a key element for IT decision making, but you need other processes (checklists) like CMM-I, ITIL, project management, portfolio management, etc. OMB is the guiding federal agency for IT acquisition in government. The Exhibit 300s and other tools help decision makers and governance boards think through an IT acquisition, but more than anything, a good enterprise architecture provides the information required to make an informed decision for investment. Thanks for the pilot comparison. We wouldn’t want to get on a plane where the pilot didn’t do his pre-flight and we shouldn’t make IT decisions without the pre-flight (business case).