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What is the key to business agility for a company today?

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Business agility seems to be one of the central characteristics to business survival in today's high-speed economy.  So what is the key to achieving business agility for a company today?  Is it BPM, lean, Six Sigma, some combination of those, or something else?

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  • Interesting. I just posted this on my blog an hour back - http://ashishbhagwat.wordpress.com/2011/04/07/the-new-role-of-it-from-cost-center-to-business-platform-provider/

    Some key success factors:
    - The decoupling of the technical infrastructure track and the process / application development
    - Modeling driven, “visual” and configuration driven process development over shared-serviced-platform as against a vertically integrated application development project
    - Ability for IT teams to stick to project governance and platform delivery and facilitating the business to focus on process management and governance.
    - Strong support for the Enterprise architecture at strategy and governance level

    Applications PaaS (APaaS) provides the visual and modeling driven capability for applications development. It is offered as a service, hence decouples the platform engineering from application development as a model. It is also, interestingly, a High-Productivity paradigm that enables a rapid and business oriented application development (as against High Control Paradigm of General Purpose PaaS that ties in app development rigidly to IT).

    This is where I see all the dots connecting – Visual Basic or MS Access style of development, Cloud based Platforms-as-a-Service that is modeling driven and autonomic as a platform, Business Value driven BPM style projects that enable focus on Business Value.

  • While I agree with Ashish that the technical components he mentioned are important, the key to business agility is not found in technology.

    Business agility comes from having an open mind about your market, its trends, and your customers - having the capacity to ask regularly, "What are my customers trying to accomplish?" and "How can my organization help them accomplish that better?"

    When you understand the answers, then you execute. If your organization continues asking and executing, it will be nimble. This is why business agility is found more commonly in smaller, more entreprenuerial organizations.

  • Business agility stems from an ability to adapt to rapid changes in the global economy and in the consumer makeup. There are many ways to facilitate that adaptation - technology, leadership, financial, etc. There is no one single answer. That said not internalizing anything that is not germaine to your business is a good rule of thumb in moving toward agility.

  • From http://isismjpucher.wordpress.com/quotes/

    “Agility is not an intrinsic property of software or methodology and cannot be supplied through these. Only agile-thinking management and employees will make a business more agile.” Max J. Pucher 2007 (Why SOA does not deliver. Article in Output Magazine)

    From http://isismjpucher.wordpress.com/2011/02/26/architecture-and-process-is-about-people/

    What helps people with agile mindsets to make the business more agile is the common terminology and goals provied by a Business Arhitecture. Business Architecture as well as BPM too often share a common false perspective: They are used to reduce complexity by enforcing structure. They are meant to create an illusionary predictability where there is none.

    Once you look at people (as I proposed above) it is not standardization and reuse that is delivering benefits, but people and knowledge variety and diversity. Business Architecture is meant to make natural complexity transparent and not avoid it. A Business Architecture must enable a business to DIFFERENTIATE itself from the competition through the best possible outcomes on a moments notice!

    A great architecture isn’t bothered by the changes in the business or in the environment. The architecture can allow the people of a business to be adaptive, but the architecture itself must not be changed all the time. At best it has to be amended.

    The architecture of a business follows the same principles as that of a building. Architecture is about concepts and not the construction drawings and it doesn’t describe how the bricks are being laid or the steel is being welded. It doesn’t describe exactly which work steps people will perform in which room. A well architectured building focuses on making people productive by making them feel comfortable.

    Therefore process flows are never part of architecture. They are performed by the people that LIVE and WORK in those rooms. Processes should only be defined through goals and outcomes from strategy/architecture.

    Once again: It is people who are agile and it is current IT - and that includes BPM - who is holding them back!

  • My thinking is in line with that of Faun and Max.

    Technology may contribute to an agile organization, but mostly the root of agility lies in the collective consciousness of an organization. It is in the mindset, an organizational attitude, if you will.

    And so, implementing BPM by itself does not automatically make a firm agile. It calls for concerted effort in allowing technology to become an extension of that mindset. That is why the choice of tool is important and that is why during process design it is crucial to involve the right people.

  • If a business simply can't decide what to do until the last minute, you could say it's agile.

    Sounds like a joke -- but that is actually the case for both product and technology driven companies in rapidly changing, competitive environments. Many of my compatriots at iTKO came from supply chain planning backgrounds. To be agile they always advised customers to commit their capital as late as possible, which created shorter, more agile cycles and less inventory.

    A high-tech company doesn't want to be caught making last quarter's laptop, any more than an online bank or insurance quoting service wants to be caught developing last quarter's software or building up expired code and data (inventory).

  • user-pic

    Only two things are required, resilience and adaptability. They play across function, structure and process from strategy to operations. The reason I include resilience is because sometimes adaptability comes from standing still.

  • In my experience, the IT is usually one of the main factors which block the business agility, as Max said. At the same time, a properly architected enterprise BPM system can be the main enabler for business agility (e.g. http://www.slideshare.net/samarin/architecting-enterprise-bpm-systems-for-optimal-agility-presentation ).

    Architecture, by making explicit the relationships between different enterprise artefacts, helps to manage the existing complexity of enterprises (e.g. http://improving-bpm-systems.blogspot.com/2011/02/explaining-ea-business-architecture.html ).

    Thanks,
    AS

  • Agility definitely comes from the people. People can overcome almost anything if they have the right skills and capabilities and are "truly" empowered to use them.

    Other things like really well defined business rules, separate from the code, are also helpful.

  • The advantage is knowing how to compose business processes to differentiate your enterprise from. If you can do this on a nimble way you become agile, otherwise companies will be will be caught by the competition. Mastering your resources (money, IT, people, infrastructure, goodwill) to bring your distinctive advantage together with predictive analytic and on going strategy environment and execution is key to become an agile company. A resource by it self does not provide endless competitive position, unless a company is on a monopoly / oligopoly market.

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