4 ‘Techy’ Steps to Accelerating Enterprise Agility – Part II

In the first part of this article, I addressed the fact that a major issue with most information technology (IT) organizations is speed. I also looked at some reasons why this problem persists, and why it has to be effectively tackled. IT can respond to the challenge of accelerating enterprise agility by improving its own flexibility and operational efficiency. This can be done through the following 4 steps:

1. Standardized Infrastructure (Virtualization)

Standardized technology platforms help increase the efficiency with which compute power, networks, storage, and business applications are deployed and managed in an enterprise. Unfortunately, standardized hardware remains a dream in most companies. Organizational hardware systems are usually heterogenous because their growth – and purchase – are usually organic. Nonetheless, standardized platforms can still be achieved in an enterprise through the use of virtualization.

Virtualization refers to partitioning one physical resource into several virtual ones. Each virtual resource can interact independently with other devices, applications, data and users as though it were a separate physical resource. While virtualization in IT mostly refers to server virtualization, the practice can be applied to storage, compute power, desktops and other technology resources. The following is a brief introduction to virtualization:

The key benefits that virtualization brings to accelerating enterprise agility include:

  • Rapid Provisioning – Because new virtual machines are much easier to deploy, IT can respond faster and more flexibly to business units that need technology resources to scale up existing operations, or initiate new ones.
  • High Availability – Virtualization makes IT systems more fault tolerant. This means that they can efficiently distribute disparate workloads among virtual machines. This increases enterprise agility as spikes in system usage, as a function of spikes in customer demand, can be effectively managed.

2. Service Oriented Architecture (SOA)

If IT is to start functioning faster, it has to stop its familiar practice of re-inventing the wheel. What do I mean? The ‘new’ business applications which most business units require aren’t really new. Rather, they are mostly composed of functionality which resides on already existing, but monolithic applications. Application functionality that exists in a monolithic stack is not re-usable, and in most cases has to be coded from scratch. This leads to slow development cycles, and uncontrolled maintenance costs resulting from redundancies.

Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) solves this problem by enabling a shift in enterprise software from monolithic stacks to more efficient, modular components. SOAs essentially consist of small, loosely coupled application functionality which are published, consumed and combined with other applications over a network. The functionality is loosely coupled because it is abstracted (made independent of) its underlying technology, which makes functionality within widely disparate applications highly reusable. This reusability and accessibility allows developers to combine functionality over a network to produce new business applications. Sound complicated? This might help:

Some key benefits of SOA to accelerating enterprise agility are:

  • Shorter Development Cycles – As most new applications will consist mainly of existing functionality, SOA makes development cycles shorter, and this helps to accelerate the delivering of business value.
  • Lower Development & Maintenance Costs – Reusing existing components will significantly reduce application development and maintenance costs, and allow IT to do more with less.

3. Minimum Viable Product (MVP)

In product development, especially within lean startup circles, the concept of a Minimum Viable Product (MVP) has gained a lot of ground. In software development, MVP refers to a product version that contains the minimal features required for it to be successfully deployed, and nothing more. How is this relevant to enterprise IT?

Enterprise software is usually characterized by fancy features or bells and whistles, which are eventually used by a small set of users. While these features may actually increase productivity, it may not make sound business sense for resources to be deployed towards building them at the initial launch of an application. Instead, a minimalist product should be created and deployed quickly, and other nice-to-have features can be added in future product iterations. With this approach, new business initiatives can quickly get the technology enablement they need, and the enterprise can become more responsive to market dynamics.

4. Open Project Management

In his book titled Winning, former chairman and CEO of GE Jack Welch talked about how the process of corporate budgeting is at best an exercise in travesty at most companies. What he meant was this: the middle managers bring in annual plans based on worst case scenarios; C-level executives arrive with plans based on a future where everything can be achieved with very little resources. Both teams then work together to arrive at a budget full of comprises and no ambition. The benefit of this approach is that middle managers can easily exceed their targets, and senior executives can easily withhold resources that are needed by the managers to achieve ambitious targets for the company. Unfortunately the cost is that the organization always fails to achieve its true potential, since no one is even trying to stretch.

I believe that IT can incorporate some key learnings from the mistake described above to its project management practices. While it is fine for business leaders to want to know the shortest time within which a project can be delivered, they have to understand that openness goes both ways. IT has to help project sponsors understand that they have to give the project teams enough slack to accommodate eventualities that usually occur during an implementation. This would build trust within the project sponsors and their teams, and ultimately allow the teams to set stretch goals in terms of project implementation timelines. With this approach, business value will be delivered faster.

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