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Anatomy of Agile Enterprise

Janne J. Korhonen

When the Ground Rocks, IT Must Flex

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The prevailing IT mess of large organizations, in particular, does not readily yield to the ever-changing market needs. IT is usually seen as one of the least agile departments, although technology bears potential for enabling organizations to become more agile. The knee-jerk reaction to the increasing cost and pricing pressures may be to focus on the operating costs of IT. However, this "keep the lights on" approach will be seriously misguided, as forced quick fixes render the IT landscape fragile rather than agile.

According to Dyer and Ericksen, the requisite core meta-competence of agility is the capacity to steer organizations in and around a renewal cycle consisting of four competencies: exploration, exploitation, adaptation, and exit. IT is often focused on exploitation: enhancing operational efficiency and optimizing the delivery of solutions to present-day business needs. Consequently, IT is not as adaptive to changing business priorities as it should. Black swans may make the whole organization tailspin, and if IT cannot be maneuvered promptly enough, the cost of inertia may be prohibitive. Explorations in emerging technologies and new capabilities are essential to develop requisite "absorptive capacity". New modes of operation cannot be adopted overnight. It is equally important to abandon outdated technologies and capabilities. Just because something "has always been done like this down here" may just be all the more reason to change the status quo.

Agile organizations deliberately prune away obsolete and redundant information systems, standardize and harmonize technologies, and identify and define standard services and processes. This focus on IT effectiveness enables these organizations to focus on value creation in response to changing customer needs. Moreover, Weill and Broadbent have proven that cost-focused businesses actually spend more on IT than the industry average, while businesses focused on agility have reduced IT costs.

Once IT has been "agilized", its value increasingly comes from how technology is used for strategic business ends. As IT enablement problems are beyond the scope of any individual, they must be dealt with by a team of people with complementary skills and a common language. An agile organization needs people with a relatively deep expertise in their principal field and a broad general understanding of other fields. Teams and governance arrangements of these "T-shaped people" are focused on the problems at hand rather than on set solutions in their pockets. "In the face of change, the competent are helpless." Willingness to change, ability to learn and the capacity to take multiple perspectives outshine the highest of competence.

Are you a regular reader of this blog? Do you resonate with the ideas, but remain with questions? Or do you disagree on some aspects and want to express your take on things? Then this upcoming webinar may be of interest to you. In this concise presentation, I will recapitulate many of the ideas put forth in this blog and also cover some new material. In the end, I will open the air for discussion, which will surely be very interesting.

Janne J. Korhonen provides insights into how information technology can be applied strategically to catalyze organizational change and responsiveness. Drawing from both theory and practice, he discusses agile enterprise and its governance.

Janne J. Korhonen

Janne J. Korhonen is an independent business and IT consultant,specializing in enterprise architecture, business process management,service-oriented architecture and pertinent governance models. He has over ten years of experience as an architect and consultant in a variety of extensive and mission-critical IT projects. With strong theoretical underpinnings, his consulting encompasses systemic co-development of business, organization and information technology.

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