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Can technology improve agility?

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Neil Ward-Dutton discusses this in the post, Calling BS on..."Our technology makes your business agile." So do you think technology can help improve agility? 

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  • Yes, definitely.
    Agility is an organizational and methodological issue, but without the proper technical tools it cannot be pushed to its best.
    We are experiencing it in all the industrial scenarios where we apply our model-driven code generation tool WebRatio (http://www.webratio.com).
    Design, prototyping, validation and deployment cycles are dramatically reduced (not counting the development costs) and agility is concretely made possible.

  • Yes, absolutely but it is not a given. I would argue that a really solid process that is well thought out and well aligned with corporate strategies and goals can also improve agility. Process improvement without technology can provide this. Technology can just magnify that benefit. However i think it it important to note that in order for the technology to provide the agility the processes themselves have to be be well thought out, with involvement from all stakeholders inlcuding the front line worker who is usually responsible for interacting with most of these processes. The processes also have to be architected and built in such a way that allows for adaptation to changing business needs. Finding a need to change then going through a 6month development and test effort wont cut it. So in short i say yes but, with caveats.

  • Glad to see you pick up this thread.

    Agility: the power of moving quickly and easily; nimbleness. Antonyms: clumsiness, stiffness.

    Technology itself cannot make a company agile, you have to factor business culture, regulatory environment and the nature of business itself.

    However, within the domain of Enterprise IT Architecture, technology can either add or detract from an organization's agility.

    As per my comment on Neil's blog, the history of automation and standardization has embedded static schemas across the enterprise and it makes change within and across systems difficult. Ironically, after decades of process improvement, the least automated and efficient aspect of business operations is change management.

    There has been an abundance of articles attacking inflexibility of enterprise (notably Ray Wang "Enterprise Software Sucks" presentation) in light of consumerization of IT and increased competition of globalization, both leading to shorter innovation cycles.

    While it is unlikely that the enterprise will rip and replace its ERP systems, they can benefit from adding an engagement layer over their infrastructure that supports collaboration across systems, allows for composite enterprise entities (MDM) that are abstracted above distributed and heterogeneous systems.

    Such technology can support adaptive processes that are responsive to process participants and events.

    This in no way means the end of governance, transparency or reporting - it just enables interactions to be contextualized so constraints are relevant and potentially modifiable to allow for problem solving and innovation at the fringes of the enterprise where people interact with customers, partners, and each other.

    When you shift focus from strict standardization/proceduralism to goal orientation, the result is increased agility.

  • Thinking technology itself will make a firm agile is a lot like expecting the new football to make your team great in dribbling.

    At best, as Marco says, Technology can allow firms to push it to their best advantage and I agree with Niel's PoV.

    A quote from Max Pucher here words it well and inspired the post.

  • People are the challenge here, not technology. Certainly technology can enable and improve agility. The problem, as I see it, is that companies "jump in" thinking that technology will resolve all of their business transformation issues and they forget that they really need to focus on their employees, customers, and suppliers to accomplish the changes that they want.

  • Agility within the organization, and technology to support it go hand in hand. I completely agree with Neil when he says that technology will not "make your organization agile". Overblown claims are common in advertisement: drinking the right beer doesn't make you instantly more popular with the right crowd either.

    By far, the biggest factor in gaining an agile enterprise is the philosophy that guides management. But the tools have to fit this philosophy. I remember BPM tools that required you to take down and rebuild the server in order to change the process. This seemed reasonable to the designers because they were working under the assumption that your would figure out the best process, and then change it no more than once a year. Given this mindset, it was considered a waste of effort to make process change easier, because it was not going to be needed.

    Tools that support agility, as you know, allow anything to be changed at any time. Ooops, there I go exaggerating again. I said "anything" can be changed. What I really meant was "all the things that might need to be changed" can be changed. There is a big value judgement behind what I think might need to be changed. The software designer that has a good grasp of the *right* kinds of things that need changing for an organization will make a big difference.

    It is certainly the case that the wrong technology can PREVENT agility, such as the system I mentioned above. If you have such a system today, and you have in place the right culture for agility, then switching to a system designed for agility certainly will help "make you more agile". As I said, the technology and management philosophy have to go hand in hand.

    Here is an example of agility that has nothing to do with their systems:

  • I agree with Neil Ward-Dutton's conclusion that "Good enterprise technology – combined with a good set of technology management and strategy capabilities – are a necessary but not sufficient enabler of sustainable business agility."
    However, lack of Agility (felxebility and ability to adapt or change quickly) is determined by the weakest link in the chain. Unfortunately, IT Technologies and Architectures,prior to Service Oriented Architecture and BPM are the weakest link. Business CXO talked for years about Business Agility and about IT Technologies and Architectures as the main obstacle for implementing it.
    SOA is a Mainstream architectures but yet many organizations are far from compelting the long journey to SOA. Others are still failing in doing it right. BPM is still evolving and many enterprises are far from implementing it in a way that realize its Value Propision. Also be aware of too much IT Agility as described in the post

    The Dark side of Agility.

  • Too often agility within an organization is just wishful thinking. They strive to buy in on agility via a methodology while trying to keep the underlying bureaucratic machinery unchanged. That being said, I agree with those who propose that technology can in fact be an enabler when it matches the proper mindset of the human actors.

  • Neil Ward-Dutton is right on in his blog. I can not believe vendors are still trying to run this age-old rap. I appreciated the read. Below is a copy of my response posted on his blog.

    Agility is a conceptual framework that can improve IT architecture and the enterprise architecture as a whole. If applied as designed, agility can facilitate an iterative approach in development and strategic planning, promoting collaboration while encouraging rapid and flexible response to change which is critical in the current business climate.

    My response on Neil's blog...

    Bravo!!! LOL!!!

    Maybe fifteen years ago or so such BS did fly…with those who did not know or understand the recursive relationship between business and IT. Today's IT managers are more savvy and educated in business, architecture, structure, processes, governance, etc. For such a statement to roll off the lips (fingertips or pen) of a vendor is an insult to intelligence.

    Software and hardware are only resources that when purchased and configured according to the needs and direction of the organization, become assets in reaching the goal – they become components of the plan.

  • Jaisundar, thanks for quoting me!

    While technology doesn't guarantee agility, it is the only thing that will make agility happen today. So try it without and you won't be competitive. Put technology in but don't empower people to use it - you will fail equally.

    Methodology is the enemy of agility. Technology is its best friend, if you as an executive understand how to use it.

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