Agile Enterprise IT: Oxymoron to Reality

by Bruce Skaistis

THE PROBLEM

In todayís dynamic environment, competitive success depends on being able to quickly respond to changing market, economic and regulatory conditions. Everything in the enterprise has to be done much faster than it was done in the past--and that means enterprise IT has to be able to quickly respond and change directions to support critical strategic initiatives and requirements.

The need for speed is focusing attention on the importance of enterprise IT agility. Unfortunately, agile enterprise IT is an oxymoron in many organizations because quick response to changing conditions and requirements is not an enterprise IT characteristic. That has to change. Enterprise IT has to be reshaped to become an agile asset the enterprise can quickly redirect to compete and operate effectively in an increasingly competitive global marketplace.

THE SOLUTION

Making enterprise IT fast and flexible has to happen, but it isnít going to be easy. Itís going to require major changes in enterprise IT processes, infrastructures and technologies. Before addressing the process and structural changes, enterprise IT needs to create a culture that focuses on the importance of quick response and quick change. Hereís a five-step approach for creating an agile enterprise IT culture:

Step 1: Clearly Define Benefits of Agility
The first step in creating an agile enterprise IT culture is to clearly define and communicate the benefits of making enterprise IT fast and flexible. The enterprise IT team needs to understand the new found obsession with agility.

Some organizations have focused on improved customer service, improved productivity and even improved employee morale as benefits of making enterprise IT quicker and more flexible. Those are benefits of making enterprise IT more agile, but those benefits are used to justify just about every process and procedural change enterprise IT makes.

The real benefit of improving enterprise ITís ability to quickly respond to changing conditions and requirements is making the enterprise more competitive and more successful in an increasingly competitive marketplace. Thatís the benefit the enterprise IT team needs to hear on a regular basis.

Step 2: Establish Expectation for Quick Response and Quick Change
The second step in creating an agile enterprise IT culture is to create an expectation for enterprise IT agility. Building on the benefit of making the enterprise more competitive makes it easy to create an expectation for quick response and quick change within the enterprise IT team.

You also need to create the quick response expectation with enterprise ITís customers because the customers will really benefit from enterprise IT agility. Creating a quick response expectation with customers requires a real commitment to agility. Once customers are told they can expect quick response, they will make a lot of noise when they donít get quick response. Their expectation will put tremendous pressure on the enterprise IT team to be more agile.

Step 3: Foster Quick Decisions
Enterprise IT decision making has to speed up. In most organizations, enterprise IT decisions are thoroughly analyzed, discussed, and reviewed before a decision is made. That means it takes a long time to make enterprise IT decisions. Itís very difficult to be agile if you are sitting around waiting for decisions.

The thorough review and decision making processes used in enterprise IT were introduced to control major enterprise IT expenditures--which is good. Over time, use of the thorough review and decision making process expanded and is now used for just about every enterprise IT decision in some organizations--which is bad.

To speed up enterprise IT decisions, you have to make a conscious effort to "fast track" decisions. It may not be practical to fast track all enterprise IT decisions, but youíll be surprised how many decisions can be moved to the fast track.

Step 4: Minimize Long Term Commitments
In the past, enterprise IT has been big on long term commitments. Long term commitments for software, equipment, facilities, services--and even people are pretty much standard in the enterprise IT world. Long term commitments are typically justified as the most cost effective approach.

Long term commitments limit agility. The more long term commitments enterprise IT has, the less agile enterprise IT will be. Itís that simple.

I donít get to say "paradigm change" much anymore, but limiting long term commitments requires a real enterprise IT paradigm change. Enterprise IT has to start thinking in terms of making short term commitments, so the commitments can be changed quickly and enterprise IT resources and expenditures can be quickly redirected to support the enterpriseís most critical requirements. I donít want to upset any financial types who might read this briefing, but sacrificing cost effectiveness for flexibility is a good trade-off in todayís quick change world.

Step 5: Measure Agility
To paraphrase Peter Drucker, "you canít improve what you canít measure." If you want enterprise IT to be agile, you have to measure enterprise IT agility.

Sounds good, but how do you measure enterprise IT agility? A lot of research is being devoted to measuring corporate and enterprise IT agility, and this research is not finding any easy answers.

Iím going to keep this pretty high level, but the first step in measuring enterprise IT agility is determining what needs to be measured. In most cases, a number of factors should be considered in measuring agility, including how quickly change requests are handled, problems are resolved, new enterprise IT solutions are rolled out, and decisions are made. Yes, you even need to track how long it takes to make decisions. Howís that for pressure?

After determining the factors to be measured, you have to decide how you are going to measure the factors. In most cases, the best approach is to establish an agility baseline measure and then compare performance to the baseline. As you get more agile, you will probably want to adjust the baseline and add more precise agility measures.

Bottom line, you arenít going to know if you are really becoming more agile unless you measure agility.

THE MORAL

The future of enterprise IT is all about agility. Since enterprise IT in many organizations is slow and deliberate, which means some big changes are coming.

Turning enterprise IT into an agile asset starts by creating a culture of quick response and quick change in enterprise IT. Creating the agile culture provides a foundation for all the other changes that have to be made to make enterprise IT truly agile. Changing cultures is never easy, but it has to happen to change agile enterprise IT from an oxymoron to a reality.


About the Author
Bruce Skaistis is the founder of eGlobal CIO. He began his career as a consultant with Arthur Andersen and was CIO of a large bank group before forming his own management services firm. He has extensive enterprise IT management, process optimization, and action facilitation experience.


Copyright ©2007 Global CIO, Inc. All rights reserved. Used by permission.

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