Systems Architecture:

(a reusable example)


6.00 am Sydney Airport

Would you like to watch a movie Mr Phelps?
I prefer the theatre.
Would you consider the cinema of the Ukraine?
Perhaps you would choose one for me …
Thank you. (1)

Figure 1: PlayTV road block

Good morning Mr Phelps.

The man you are looking at is Neil Vod. He is the General Manager of PlayTV.

For the last 18 months Neil has been setting up a new start up company that offers pay television services. PlayTV is a subsidiary of the local telecommunications giant. It is due to go live in
three months, when the first stage of the network is due to be completed.

The roll out of the network is on schedule, but before PlayTV can begin operations it must overcome a major road block.

Neil Vod is seeking IMF support to resolve this show stopper so he can meet his business unit’s strategic objective.

To get the new business venture up and running the senior management team must determine the appropriate computer system infrastructure they require to support the day-to-day operational aspects of
their business.

PlayTV management have been trying to address this issue with the support of the internal planning team. Three proposals have been taken to the board to integrate the PlayTV operations with the
rest of the business. The $100 million cost for this solution has been unable to gain appropriate support from the board. Certain board members support the benefits of providing one bill to its
customer base, but not at the cost required to realign existing applications to include the PlayTV business model.

Neil’s dilemma is that if he does not solve this show stopper soon, he will have to delay the planned launch of PlayTV. This option is equally unacceptable given the capital cost of rolling out
PlayTV’s optical fibre network…

I’ve already dispatched a team from your usual group.

Sarah Davies is the industry specialist who will support you in analysing industry trends.
John Harman is your technical consultant.
Hannah Williams will handle multimedia.
Ethan Hunt will be your facilitator.

As always, should you or any member of your IM force fail the secretary will disavow all knowledge of your actions.

This tape will self destruct in five seconds.

1, 2, 3, …

On Assignment

9:00 am November 14

After an early morning briefing session with Neil Vod, Sarah had begun her first interview with the planning group manager, Jeanette Work. The purpose of the meeting was to discuss the specific
issues raised by the board against a fully integrated system solution.

Apparently, the board was apprehensive towards fully integrating PlayTV with the core telephony business. The single bill concept is very popular within the industry but senior management were
concerned with the high cost of the proposal. Particularly a cost that would be difficult to obtain a return on investment given the small size of the initial target customer base. Ultimately, the
revenue source would not fund the proposed capital investment required to integrate PlayTV with the core telecommunications business.

The question that began to form in Sarah’s mind was how could she lead the senior management team to a conclusion they would feel confident enough to champion at the executive level?

Sarah held a number of interviews with the local planning team and discussed the results of their work. As she dug deeper into the archives, she discovered a hidden library of intellectual property
about the telecommunications company. It was a corporate architecture produced some five years earlier.

The corporate architecture contained a data architecture, comprising of 80 data items and their descriptions, and a process architecture which contained 90 unit processes and their descriptions.
The unit process descriptions also described the data items used as inputs and the data items created as outputs.

Jeanette mentioned that this work had lead to her promotion to the senior management team but the architecture had received little attention since.

9:00 am November 15

Back at the IMF camp, Sarah presented her findings to the team. She briefed the team on:

  • the corporate data and process architecture,
  • the key aspects of the telecommunications industry and
  • the similarities and differences it had with the pay TV business.

Jim felt that this architecture could provide an important vehicle to help the management team focus on important aspects of the business.

As the discussions evolved, Ethan recommended the process and data elements of the architecture (2) could be clustered into business areas. Aligning this information into business areas would give
management the framework they required to quickly determine the important aspects of the business. All the IMF team needed was a five day workshop to lead the PlayTV management team though a
facilitated problem resolution process.

Jim liked the idea and arranged for Ethan, Hannah and Sarah to begin preparing for the workshop.

6:00 am November 16

Jim presented (3) the IMF team’s resolution process at his morning progress meeting with Neil Vod. Neil endorsed the approach presented by Jim but felt that his staff could not take five days out
to participate in the workshop. After some negotiation, Jim obtained a three day commitment from Neil’s management team. The first two days would involve defining the optimal operational
application portfolio followed by establishment of a transition plan on the final day.

Operational Support Systems Planning workshop

8:00 am November 22

Sarah welcomed the participants to the Operation System Strategy workshop as each person arrived at the off site venue.

The IMF team had managed to secure the participation of 18 key staff. Neil had invited 13 members from the sales, marketing and network divisions of his business. Two technical project managers who
understood the existing systems were also involved from the corporate information technology group.

Jim also gained commitment from the network vendor to help develop an operational systems strategy for PlayTV. The vendor arranged for three international cable TV experts to attend the workshop.
They also provided access to their international knowledge base to answer questions that required external resources.

See Figure 1.

Determining Business Strategy

8:30 am November 22

The team facilitator, Ethan, opened the proceedings and outlined the agenda for the PlayTV operational support systems workshop.

Sarah, who was also an expert in establishing start up ventures, took the podium next. She began with a presentation on “achieving strategic advantage”…

The telecommunication’s value chain (4) provides a high level view of the primary activities and support activities PlayTV performs to add value between their suppliers and the products they sell
in the market place, see Figure 1: PlayTV value chain. The primary activities performed by PlayTV are:

  • Serve Customers
  • Provision Service
  • Develop Service Products
  • Maintain Network
  • Design & Build Network

These primary activities are supported by Plan Business Strategy, Supply Materials and Manage Staff.

Sarah pointed out that in order to achieve strategic advantage many organisations either,

  • performed one value chain activity well and subsequently oriented their whole business around this centre of excellence, or they
  • eliminated delays between primary value chain activities by taking a process view of the business.

This presentation on using Porter’s value chain (5) to achieve strategic advantage obtained the management team’s attention. The illustrations of how a number of Fortune 500 companies managed to
achieve market leadership through delivering process excellence cemented the workshop participants resolve to not only find the required operational system solutions, but to also define a migration
path that would deliver process excellence.

Identifying Candidate Solutions

12:30 pm November 22

After lunch Ethan began to introduce activities that would be undertaken to define a candidate application architecture which would support PlayTV’s operational processes.

The corporate architecture developed by the planning group manager provided the framework for all the activities the workshop team were about to undertake.

Ethan divided the workshop team into three break out groups.

Figure 2: Customer sales & service break out team

Each break out group was given a copy of the process data usage matrix clustered into business areas, refer to Figure 3: A section of the clustered process data usage matrix. They were also given
the definitions for each process and data element. Each of the break out groups were responsible for defining one or two generic applications (ii) for three to four value chain activities.

The break out teams used the process data usage matrix partitioned into business areas as the basis for identifying a generic application. Once a generic application was named the teams defined the
scope of that application in terms of the unit processes and data items it was intended to automate. Finally, the business representatives extended the definitions of the generic applications by
defining the specific strategic requirements that they, as the management team, expected each application to deliver.

Figure 3: A section of the clustered process data usage matrix

During the architecture definition process, Ethan used the criteria for achieving strategic advantage through value chain activities as a focal point for identifying the target list of applications
that were required to support the new PlayTV business venture.

The primary activities necessary to successfully establish the PlayTV business were to Serve Customers and to Provision Service. Through these activities the PlayTV management team aimed to deliver
excellence in customer care and rapid service delivery. They planned to achieve a level of excellence that would focus the entire company on exceeding the customer’s expectations by being single
minded about service.

Evaluating the Options

9:30 am November 24

There was a definite charge in the air as Ethan completed reviewing the previous two days work. The management team had achieved a sense of purpose regarding what they needed to achieve in order to
set up PlayTV’s operational systems environment.

Now that the vision was defined, the PlayTV management team had to establish a migration plan that described how they would achieve that vision.

Again the team was divided into three break out teams. Each team was responsible for defining an implementation transition plan for achieving the target architecture. The three implementation
streams were:

  • to purchase or lease off the self solutions,
  • to build the target architecture in order of generic application priority,
  • a combination of: re-use existing corporate applications, buy commercial packages and build the remaining unavailable functionality.

All teams developed the best proposal they could offer to meet the PlayTV launch date deadline, based on their implementation scenario constraints.

4:30 pm November 24

The operational system strategy workshop was drawing to a close. The cross functional business team had achieved its objective. By working through the facilitated architecture process, the team
managed to:

  • Determine the priority of the operational system support required for the launch of the PlayTV services.
  • Locate a short term package solution that provided the core customer management functionality required to support day one operational needs.
  • Agree to purchase a package solution to fulfil the strategic requirements of the network management generic application.
  • Endorse the PlayTV application architecture, so it can be used as a framework to help resolve the corporate integration requirements between PlayTV and the company’s
    corporate systems.


The key factor that lead to the short, sharp and focused resolution to an 18 month old problem was the five year old corporate process and data architecture reports that adorned the back corner of
the internal planning team’s bookshelves.

Creating the process data usage matrix and clustering this matrix into business areas provided the value required to allow management to use this information for developing a PlayTV target
application architecture. In essence, they undertook the business architect role for designing the operational infrastructure required to establish the new business venture.

As a direct result of gaining access to the planning group’s old architecture, Jim Phelps and his team were able to:

  • prepare for a three day workshop in five days,
  • provide sufficient content to facilitate a very full three day workshop programme and
  • deliver an outcome that received full management endorsement before the final report was completed for distribution.

Overall, this was an extremely successful result that illustrated how architecture shelfware can be turned into a corporate asset simply through re-use. In the words of the participants …

Thanks again for an extremely productive workshop. I thoroughly enjoyed the experience.

Thank you for the opportunity to participate in the workshop. My team feel that it was a valuable experience and that we leave with the satisfaction that a resolution to the PlayTV system’s issue
has progressed a long way.

(1)Paramount Pictures (1996), Mission Impossible,

(2)Zachman, J.A. (1987) A Frame work for Information Systems Architecture, IBM Systems Journal 26, No.3, pp. 276-292.

(3)I/S Analyser (1988) Influencing Corporate Policy, I/S Analyser, June, Vol. 26, No. 6.

(4)Streitberger, Stephan (1997) Systems Architecture: Jargon or Strategic Weapon Victorian ACS News, May/June, pp. 7-8.

(5)Porter, Michael E. and Millar, Victor E. (1985) How Information Gives Competitive Advantage Harvard Business Review, July – August, pp. 149-160.

iThe clustered process data usage matrix was used to identify the primary & support activities illustrated in the telco value chain.

iiA generic application is responsible for delivering discrete functionality, supporting one or more business processes. Generic applications form the basis of a company’s application
architecture. Each component of the application architecture is designed to work together as an integrated whole, with minimal functional or data duplication.

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Stephan Streitberger

Stephan Streitberger

Stephan Streitberger is Managing Director of designer DATA, he is a business strategist and specialises in facilitating cross functional system solutions. designer DATA offers business planning, workshop facilitation, information systems planning, business analysis, data management and corporate information systems design services.

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