Improve Business Outcomes with Technology Guardrails

Dan Hughes
February 3, 2021

Fulton Bank, as part of Fulton Financial Corporation, a $25.7 billion financial services holding company, headquartered in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, opened its doors in 1882 and offers a broad array of financial products and services in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and Virginia.

Fulton Bank continues to make great strides in increasing its enterprise architecture maturity level. Brett Gagnon, Director of Enterprise Architecture, sought an IT strategy and architecture partner to assist with the next phase of work: technology guardrails. Technology guardrails provided a way to increase the value of technology investments by empowering decision-makers with relevant information to guide the evaluation and selection of best-fit technology solutions for the corporation's technology environment.

Fulton Bank selected Wittij Consulting as the best partner for this objective, based on extensive experience implementing architecture standards at other organizations and our pragmatic approach to right-sized enterprise architecture aligned to an organization's culture.

Our Approach

There were two primary success factors for this engagement:

  1. Establish the right set of technology guardrails for the organization.
  2. Teach technology decision-makers, many in the lines of business, how to use technology guardrails.

So, what is a technology guardrail? Merriam-Webster defines guardrail as "a railing guarding usually against danger."

For this context, Wikipedia provides a more applicable definition by refining the definition of guardrail for a technology context: "an artifact that defines the boundaries in which technology change can be executed in a manner that is aligned with organizational strategy, risk, architecture, operational, and cybersecurity requirements."

technology guardrails

Technology guardrails provide technology decision-makers with information and guidance to make decisions that best align with two critical facets of an organization: strategic objectives and operating environment.  Three guardrails were targeted for this engagement: guiding principles, technology preferences, and technology standards.  One of the images used to describe these to people was a target, with each layer representing a guardrail. The outer layers provide more coverage as the guardrails are broad, and as you move toward the center, the guidance becomes more specific in each layer.

Guiding Principles
The basis for decision-making when more specific guidance is not available.Keep it simple.
Technology Preferences

Preference ratings assigned to all company technology.Business application A is preferred for online account opening.
Technology Standards
Pre-made technology decisions about the platforms and frameworks the company uses.Chrome is the standard browser.

Establishing Technology Guardrails

Gaining organizational backing for guardrails is a critical first step. Without organization-wide executive support, technology guardrails are not going to drive the desired behavior change. Presenting a value-driven case for introducing guardrails and gaining executive committee approval to put them in place is a first, essential step. Establishing management support set the tone for the future implementation and support of guardrails. It also empowered us to engage stakeholders across the organization to define and later rollout the guardrails.

Guiding Principles
Improve technology decision alignment with company mission and technology strategy
Enable faster, more consistent technology decision making by providing a consistent framework
Technology Preferences
Consider existing technology first
Leverage Preferred and Acceptable solutions
Identify rationalization efforts for Discouraged and Unacceptable solutions
Technology Standards
Accelerate time to market by leveraging pre-approved technology that works best in the bank's technology environment
Reduce cost by minimizing duplicate technologies

Once approved to proceed, we developed each set of guardrails using a similar approach:

  1. Draft candidate guardrails in a small focus group of those with the most appropriate expertise.
  2. Facilitate a discussion with a broader audience of impacted stakeholders and refine based on feedback.
  3. Gain approval for the guardrails. In this case, the executive committee approved the Guiding Principles and a baseline set of standards. It also authorized the enterprise architecture team to manage standards and non-functional requirement changes using a process that included both business and IT stakeholders.
  4. Socialize the guardrails to all technology decision-makers.

Guiding Principles

Guiding principles are a set of fundamental values that establish a framework for expected behavior and decision-making. They create a company culture where everyone understands what's important. In this case, the guiding principles' scope was technology, so the aim was to provide a broad set of values to guide decisions and structure decision analysis.

There are existing frameworks for establishing principles. For example, the Open Group™ provides a formal approach for establishing and stating Architecture Principles. While detailed analysis and rationale can be essential in determining principles, principles must be understandable to the audience in order to be effective. In this case, we selected principles that provided broad coverage and described each with a simple action statement and a few statements of clarification.

The Guiding Principles serve two purposes. They:

  1. Guide Decisions. The six principles each provide direction for a technology decision. For example, "Put the Customer First" ensures that end customers are always a key driver for every technology decision.
  2. Structure Decision Analysis. Together the six principles provide six dimensions on which to weigh options when making a technology decision.

Technology Preferences

For this effort, we focused on establishing a baseline set of preferences.

We surveyed application owners from the business and information technology department to determine which applications brought the bank the most benefit and should be nurtured and which applications brought the least value and should be scheduled for retirement. Part of this process included assigning applications to a technology capability model to enable comparison of similar applications.

Technology Standards

For this effort, we focused on establishing a baseline set of standards using two approaches:

  1. We identified "de facto" standards in the current application portfolio through joint technology and business discussions.
  2. We brainstormed pre-made technology decisions about what works best in the bank's environment, including decisions about products, product use, and product configuration.  As part of this exercise, we also captured non-functional requirements, often called technical requirements, which provide the "how," in contrast to the "what" provided by functional requirements.

Enabling Decision Makers

Dan Hughes of Wittij Consulting delivering on-site training

Here is where the plot thickened!  While Fulton Bank has a central IT function and an IT governance structure, businesses are given wide latitude in making technology decisions that best support their objectives. As a result, people make technology decisions across the organization at many levels. We created a training curriculum that focused on understanding the fundamental concepts and the business value of aligning with the guardrails. Wittij trained over 150 IT personnel and over 150 technology decision-makers within the lines of business through a series of 25 instructor-led training sessions. The instructor-led approach enabled "reading the room" and adjusting the delivery as needed. We also incorporated interactive surveys to drive engagement and prompt discussion.

How did it go?

Technology Guardrails provide a way to influence every technology decision across the enterprise while enabling decisions to be made at the speed of business.  Dan Hughes and Wittij Consulting accelerated the adoption of Technology Guardrails at Fulton Bank, ensuring that the business decision-makers understood and were able to apply the guardrails.

Brett Gagnon, Director of Enterprise Architecture

Fulton Bank senior leadership fully supported the business-value driven approach, which highlighted the organizational benefits of agreeing to and aligning with Guardrails. Senior leaders shared anecdotes of how having this additional guidance and decision-making approach will help them and their managers make better technology decisions.

The effort resulted in additional benefits as well:

  • Determining application preferences within the portfolio also identified focus areas for optimizing the portfolio and reducing operational expenses.
  • The training and information rollout gave many business users visibility to information that, even without guardrails, would help them make decisions like the categorized application portfolio listing.
  • Establishing a centralized set of technology standards helps all projects reduce mid-implementation technology surprises.

I thought the course was really well designed. I could clearly understand the guardrails and the connection to my role.

Director, Human Resources

I think this training was quite good. It helped explain to me what the guardrails were and what they meant to me. The examples also helped apply my knowledge on what the guardrails do in the grand scheme of things.

Product Manager, Merchant Card Services

Some Technology Guardrail Tips!

  • Gain executive support. Establishing an organizational mandate is critical for the long-term success of guardrails. Brett had already worked with executive management to validate the benefit of technology guardrails. A required next step in the process was to bring a concrete proposal to the executive committee for approval. This approval serves two purposes: it authorizes busy people to spend the time necessary to participate and empowers the guardrails with top-down business support.
  • Be inclusive. Guardrails add additional "rules" to organizational processes. Nobody likes having new rules thrust upon them without a voice in the process. We recommend including a wide-audience in establishing the guardrails. Somebody on the team is more likely to root for the team!
  • Make Information Easily Accessible. As part of the effort, all the training materials and guardrail reference materials were made available in various formats from documents, to an informational portal, to self-service access to an enterprise architecture repository. Providing multiple methods to access the materials served the needs of users with varied technical skills.

A key element of success was working with Brett and other leaders to customize Fulton Bank's guardrail approach. The internet is jam-packed with prescriptive enterprise architecture approaches, each claiming to be the best. The best practice is the one that works in your organization with your process, your culture, and your people.

Want some help creating Technology Guardrails to improve your business outcomes? Contact us!

Dan is the founder of Wittij Consulting. Prior to founding Wittij, he spent a decade in software development before moving into IT architecture, where he created an Open Group recognized architecture method and led delivery of all services for a company specializing in enterprise and solution architecture for 15 years. He is an energetic, thoughtful leader with an ability to engage and motivate people, and has been called a “force multiplier” for his ability to not only deliver great value, but also increase the value and capability of the people around him. Dan is a strong facilitator, able to understand and resolve complex disagreements with diplomacy. He comprehends and communicates clearly both at the detail level and the boardroom summary level to both business and technical audiences. His knowledge of enterprise techniques and technologies is broad and deep, and includes industry expertise in manufacturing, financial services, banking, health care, insurance, regulatory compliance, and NGOs.
Copyright © 2024 Wittij Inc.
crossmenu linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram