In our Forrsights Business Decision-Makers Survey, Q4 2011, 79% of business executive respondents said that technology will be a key source of innovation for their company, while 71% said that it will be a competitive differentiator. So how well positioned is IT to help firms meet these expectations? Forty-six percent thought that their current IT organization was not well positioned to meet these needs, and 41% thought IT was overly bureaucratic.
I could go on with more data, but the message is clear — business is starving for technology to help it be more innovative, create market differentiation, and lower costs. In the midst of this, IT is mired in a technology mess created by years of underinvestment and business growth by acquisition. What’s going to happen?
The thing I want you to remember is something a client said to me not too long ago that stuck with me, “Starving people will find food.” So the question is: do we feed our starving business or tell them to stay on a diet? And if the latter, what will be the impact if they go scavenging the countryside? We think the answer involves flexibly and rapidly introducing new technology to take advantage of strategic opportunities, while still protecting data, mission-critical applications, and our most precious TCO reduction goals.
In our Forrsights Business Decision-Makers Survey, Q4 2011, we asked business technology leaders to rate IT’s ability to establish an architecture that can accommodate changes to business strategy. While 45% of IT rated its ability positively, only 30% of business respondents did. Clearly, both think there is room for improvement, but business is more concerned about it.
So are we agile? Only 21% of enterprise architects in our September 2011 Global State Of Enterprise Architecture Online Survey reported being even modestly agile, so I think we all know the answer.
What do we do about it? Continue to focus on technology standardization and cost reduction? Give up on that and focus on tactical business needs? Gridlock in the middle because we can’t make the business case to invest in agility? This is the struggle EA organizations face today.
To act with agility, firms must create a foundation for it, and three barriers can get in the way:
Brittle processes and legacy systems. We all know it this one; the current state mess of processes that cannot adapt to change and legacy systems where everything is connected to everything else, so even the smallest changes have broad impacts. Techniques to overcome this barrier include partitioning the problem into digestible pieces to show incremental progress and short-term payoff.
I just recently had a conversation with Peter Hinssen, one of our keynote speakers at Forrester’s colocated CIO Forum and EA Forum in Las Vegas (May 3-4) and our EMEA CIO Forum and EA Forum in Paris (June 19-20).
Peter is both a dynamic speaker and a provocative thought-leader on the rapidly changing relationship of technology, business, and “the business function called IT.” Here’s a short summary of this conversation — and a preview of what he will be talking about at our forums.
On “The New Normal”:
Technology has stopped being “technology,” and digital has just become “normal”: We’ve entered the world of the “New Normal.” The rate of change of the technology world has become the beat to which markets transform. But the rate of change “outside” companies is now faster than the internal velocity of organizations. But how will companies evolve to cope with the changes as a result of the New Normal? How will organizations evolve to respond quickly enough when markets turn into networks of intelligence?
The answer is a simply no. I’m finding that enterprise architectures are not well-grounded in this emerging area. Many enterprise architects, and particularly those who focus on business architecture, think that dynamic case management (DCM) is a newfangled marketing term to describe an old, worn-out idea — a glorified electronic file folder with workflow. Yes, enterprise architects can be a cynical bunch. But DCM goes far beyond a simplistic technology marketing term — it’s a new way of thinking about how complex work gets done, and often enterprise architects are so consumed with technology planning that they may not see new patterns of work emerging in the business that require new ways of thinking.
“Dynamic” describes the reality of how organizations serve customers and build products in a world that is changing constantly. If you doubt that assertion, think about volcanoes disrupting airlines, oil rigs exploding, product recalls, executives being investigated for fraud, new healthcare legislation, or more common events such as mergers and acquisitions. Most knowledge work requires unique processing, and processes need to adapt to situations — not the other way around. For enterprises, DCM provides a transformational opportunity to take the drudgery out of work and enable high-value, ad hoc knowledge work — much as enterprise resource planning (ERP) did for transactional processes. And, in fact, our research points to a growing use of DCM to add agility to systems of record including packaged apps and legacy transaction systems.
If you’re trying to build an effective EA program, you’re in trouble from the get-go. I’d like to paint a rosier picture for anyone involved in this strategic, potentially very high-impact practice, but consider the fact that one of our more frequent client inquiries is about how to communicate EA’s value to non-EAers. How can I not say you’re in trouble if so many people doing EA look for outside help to explain to their own stakeholders that what they’re doing on a daily basis is worthwhile? There’s clearly something wrong with this picture.
So, OK, let’s say you want to build an EA practice anyway, despite the poorly understood value proposition — who should you staff it with? Misguided people with a desire to labor away in obscurity? Actually, no, you want your best and brightest. Those few very smart people who know your business very well, have both deep and broad knowledge and great analytical skills, and who display the potential for strategic-, system-, and design-thinking. That's a little challenging.
And then, when you find these people and attract them to your program, how best to organize them for effectiveness? Centralizing EA resources gives you the most control and makes it more likely that EA can deliver on its strategic value proposition. Decentralizing or federating EA resources puts the architects where the action is, making it more likely business and BT stakeholders will perceive value from the effort. But then those federated resources sometimes get so involved with their local — and usually tactical — issues that they go native and they’re not really working on the “E” in EA anymore.
Speed and agility are at the heart of business today — and, unfortunately, those are two areas in which IT is falling short. Two trends — neither of which is going away anytime soon — are impacting this increased need. Consumerization is rapidly changing the expectations of today’s information workers. In too many instances that we care to acknowledge, your employees are using faster, more agile solutions at home than they are at the office. On top of that, businesses are under an increased demand to change.
Enterprise architects are in a unique position to be change agents for their businesses — if they aggressively change the way they work with the business. Join us at our Enterprise Architecture forums — May 3 to 4 in Las Vegas and June 19 to 20 in Paris — for practical guidance on how to connect EA with your business’ bottom line.
You already know it. Technology is completely pervasive in our lives, and in how businesses operate. It’s pervasive in how business execs think — they know that every change they make has a technology aspect to it. As my colleague Randy Heffner says, “It’s no longer enough to say that technology supports business. Today, your business is embodied in its technology.”
You already know it. The pace of change in our highly interconnected and interdependent world is increasing — and along with this are the opportunities and risks which change brings. From emerging markets to new social platforms such as Pinterest, business leaders are finding they can’t assume stable business models and environments anymore. Gone are the days of three-year strategic plans — the mantra now is: “How quickly can we sense and respond to new opportunities and threats? How quickly can we shift our business for these changes?”