Wednesday, October 30, 2013

An Agile IT: How to Define IT Agility?

IT Agility is a mentality, culture, process, and perspective. 

Agility is a common business term that is used frequently these days to measure how fast business will respond to opportunities or threats, and enterprises are even having key agility indicators. IT Agility is about how IT will enable business agility, how fast IT will deliver the required effectively and efficiency. The more alignment between business and IT the more level of agility for both will be achieved.

Agility is a measure of ability to recognize, act and benefit from changing business circumstances. Business agility is the reciprocal of the lag time between recognizing an emerging business opportunity and being able to act on that opportunity. And IT agility is the reciprocal of the drag that IT places on business' agility. An agile business can do this, whilst competitors are still setting up change teams. Having technology which empowers business users to make changes to processes (within a control framework) without the need for expensive projects is an important aspect, but to be "agile", organizations need to focus on their business processes, and not operate in traditional silo structures. In the context of IT, from the highest strategic to the deepest technical levels, "agility" is a fast, sure response to external stimuli. Agility is the ability to "pivot" and change direction in response to market pressure, or to create market opportunity, It requires distinct patterns of IT capabilities, with specific positioning in the enterprise (enterprise or business unit level). Getting the right mix is not easy. It requires a good understanding of what is meant by strategic agility, to avoid over-investing in a given layer of the technology stack. So keeping an eye on where IT initiatives cluster on the value-net (internally focused/ supply side/demand side) would be a first measure of whether IT dollars line up with strategic direction.

For achieving agility, there should be a rolling plan in addition to the mid-term or long-term strategic planning document. Need for agility arises due to changes in underlying assumptions. If these changes are captured in the rolling plan, flexibility can be achieved. Every CIO may ask self: Is IT responsive and proactive enough to find answers and solutions in case of emerging chances? Does IT have a platform which is scalable, secure, resilient and well interconnected? IT is now the rate limiter for change, the IT infrastructure that was implemented to deliver business automation in the 20th Century, which it did quite well through standardization, now impedes business agility in the 21st Century; a movement that recognizes increasingly dynamic business environments and the need for operational responsiveness is on the way. Organizations need to adaptive IT infrastructure for business sustainability. This reflects that systems development, qualification, and deployment are complex tasks. The business aspiration to agility can often be leveraged to help align business and technology stakeholders around the case for application modernization and rationalization. Many businesses aspire to agility when they are burdened by brittle, tightly coupled systems constrained by rigid roadmaps and deployment schedules due to the underlying code debt, integration dependencies, and testing complexity. In the meantime, well-run technology organizations can demonstrate alignment by being responsive to tactical business opportunities to the degree possible while remaining focused on developing, communicating, and executing a longer-term strategy to enable and maintain true enterprise agility.

Agility requires a set of complementary & strategic IT competencies: It includes but not limited to portfolio management, project management, change management, enterprise architecture, rapid adoption and deployment of new platforms, etc. It takes strategic guideline - If you have a very good idea of where you are going - what your systems will be like and how they will work - then it is much easier to choose quickly between immediate opportunities: pick the ones that take you in the right direction. As strategy as a vector has both direction and force, the goals should be clear and therefore the ability to follow a strategy more than possible. It's also worth pointing out that agility is closely related to simplicity. The simpler the business processes, the agiler the business is. And the simpler the IT systems, the agiler (in general) the IT systems are. In an architectural context, it effectively reflects the functional coverage of IT architecture. Re-purposing well-designed components and systems for changed purposes and conditions can be accomplished quickly and consistently if the underlying structures (both physical and logical) properly cover the various problem spaces.

The purpose of building an Agile IT is to pursue an optimal way running IT, to enable business innovation and transformation via taking advantage of organization’s resources, and cultivate a set of necessary and unique set of business capabilities to gain competitive business advantage. Being Agile, not just doing Agile, it's a mentality, and IT agility is like many things IT does today, is a journey, not a technological project.


Very nicely written! I especially like how you clearly state that the quite successful standardized 20th century architecture impedes 21st century business agility. In my experience, the architecture has been a big stumbling block, both conceptually and pragmatically.

Would love to see a follow up article from your CIO perspective on how to make that mind shift and then live in an emergent architecture world.

Well written article and i must say you have highlighted things goodly basically business agility is something that is a need of a work when its being done in terms of business so its growth remains correct and this is the way for it mate.

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