chris - Fotolia
Interview: Paul Douglas, Scottish Water
Building an enterprise architecture involves balancing near- and mid-term goals with longer-term business objective, cost and technical challenges, says Paul Douglas, lead enterprise architect at Scottish Water
Like architecture in the real world, an IT architecture in the digital world forms a solid foundation on which to develop a digitally enabled organisation.
Paul Douglas is lead enterprise architect at Scottish Water and has a background in civil engineering, which is where his career at Scottish Water started 25 years ago. Over time, he moved into business change, transformation and setting digital strategies for the organisation.
He says his work involves figuring out what investments are needed by the utility company. “It is very business-focused,” he says.
For Douglas, an enterprise architecture has a strong analogy with civil engineering, in terms of building structures. “I think in those terms,” he says. “I was always interested in architecture.”
From an enterprise architecture perspective, he says the business can be regarded as a thought structure, adding: “What do you do to get a more efficient business process? What projects will you need?”
Using the analogy of house building, Douglas says: “If you didn’t think of the overall organisation of a house, you’d have the bath in the kitchen.”
Choice – or too much of it – is among the challenges of developing an enterprise architecture. There are numerous products that tackle the same problem from different angles, giving slightly different results. Some may be more optimal than others; some may be more economical.
“No one size fits all,” says Douglas. “We view short- to mid-term investments to add initial value.” There may be cases where a product will be expected to last a lifetime, or it may only be required as an interim step, he adds.
“We were glad to move our systems to the cloud and to make them more accessible”
Paul Douglas, Scottish Water
“Architectural principles drive our different strategies and we make use of our partners to test the best options,” says Douglas. For instance, Scottish Water uses ServiceNow and Salesforce, both of which could be used in a particular application area. And even though it has Salesforce, the company also uses Microsoft Dynamics for customer relationship management (CRM).
He says that from an architectural standpoint, Scottish Water has a cloud-preferred strategy, adding: “We make the best of the platforms we have already invested in.”
For example, the company may try to deploy Microsoft PowerBI because it already licenses this product. But sometimes, although using existing licensed software may prove more economical, the actual implementation may involve a lot more effort than buying a new product, says Douglas.
An architecture to cope with Covid-19
Looking at the role of digital strategy, an enterprise architecture provides a way for the organisation to understand what it needs for the future. As has been the case in every business, Douglas says the pandemic completely shifted the way Scottish Water needed to operate. “We were glad to move our systems to the cloud and to make them more accessible,” he says.
For the past decade, Scottish Water has been using iServer, a tool from Orbus Software, to establish an enterprise architecture practice, to better understand and analyse the impact of change, and support a current state assessment.
The integration of iServer’s strategic portfolio management (SPM) dashboard supports strategic decision-making. This means that individuals across all business units and levels can now benefit from consistent process modelling and technology road mapping to inform strategic decision-making.
As an example, Douglas says: “Because we built a model of our application estate in iServer, we can interrogate it to understand what we have.” This librarianship has proved very useful during the Covid-19 lockdowns, he points out.
The company runs 300 enterprise applications across its business, along with desktop applications, and all of these are catalogued in iServer, says Douglas. “We create a simple description of the application and link to the teams, business services and the data entities consumed.”
With the information in iServer, decision-makers in Scottish Water can look at a subject such as data or a business process and understand how it fits in with people and processes, he says.
Read more about enterprise architectures
- As organisations move to a cloud-native architecture, they will need to consider what to do with their existing virtual server estate.
- IT architecture trends to watch in 2021 include organising business around components and expanding tools to focus on business outcomes, automation and analytics.
For Douglas, this catalogue of applications and mapping with people and business processes has helped the company manage its operations during the pandemic.
“Senior-level management set up a Covid taskforce to make sure workers were safe and to avoid unnecessary visits to sites,” he says.
The digital side of the business also established a digital taskforce to support the new operating procedures, with help from people in the company who had knowledge of the systems and business functions. “We could tap into iServer, look at what types of functions we want to achieve and see the systems that support those functions,” says Douglas.
Last year, Scottish Water upgraded Orbus iServer to run sales performance management reports. This has enabled the company to increase its understanding of how enterprise architecture adds value to the wider business, says Douglas.
Beyond the pandemic, he says, Scottish Water has used iServer to surface the relationships between product roadmaps from suppliers and how the company intends to use these products.
By capturing information on how many users will benefit from any planned functionality improvements scheduled on the supplier’s roadmap, Douglas says it is possible to develop a logical model that helps decision-makers at Scottish Water assess longer-term investment in digital technologies.
“In iServer, we can categorise the technologies we use – understand, obsolescence, risk – and justify why we would invest in such technologies,” he says.