Business Agility: Shifting Into a Higher Gear
Wes Simonds 120000EFD6 firstname.lastname@example.org | | Tags:  delivery business service smarter capabilities gear software capability management processes ibm higher decision bizagility agility process
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Ever been instantly sure something new was a good idea? Recently, this happened to me at a friend's house during dinner. She had concocted a new quesadilla -- duck and roasted tomato and apple -- that struck me as a winner right from the description.
Now, granted, I have little knowledge of quesadillas. I have not studied at quesadilla academies. I am not a mover and shaker in the quesadilla world. Nor am I the heir to a quesadilla empire created by my grandfather, the Quesadilla King of Mexico.
Even so. Duck + roasted tomato + apple = world-class quesadilla. No doubt in my mind.
Well, this week I had much the same sort of reaction watching a presentation from the New York Business Agility Executive Forum by IBM WebSphere VP of Worldwide Sales, David Farrell. This presentation discussed what's standing in the way of business agility, and what IBM can offer to improve it.
And just like that duck-tomato-apple quesadilla, Farrell’s presentation struck me immediately as a winning combination of ingredients.
‘Business agility,’ of course, is a term that's defined in different ways by different folks. So I'll define it, very casually, like this: the power to change, quickly and effectively, to suit changing circumstances. To create new services, new products, new strategies, and do so in the least time, using the least resources.
This is not a little thing. This is a big thing. And it's a thing that pretty much every company, in every industry, is struggling with, to at least some degree.
Farrell put it rather bluntly like this: ‘There's a graveyard of failed companies who have failed to adapt, who have failed to recognize what was happening and deal with it in a proactive way. So the stakes are pretty high going forward.’
If you want a specific example of the kind of stakes he's talking about, you don't have to look very hard to find them, either. For instance: following Napster and the rise of digital music and music piracy on a mass scale circa 1999, there were basically two available roads to take:
1. Adapt to the new world and become Apple
Turns out that Apple had it right.
So, in my opinion, does IBM. Business agility is a complex area; really improving it means both understanding it at a deep level and having the range of capabilities needed to deliver a better outcome. And I don't think there's any single organization on the face of the Earth as well positioned in terms of capabilities, in both categories, as IBM and IBM Software.
Said Farrell: ‘We're all observing the same thing -- a tremendous amount of change and volatility in the marketplace today. How do we harness all of this change and turn it into a competitive advantage vs. headwind?’
Here, in short, is the IBM answer to that question.
Smarter decisions: See what's coming and do the right stuff in the right order
Business success stems, ultimately, from the decisions the business makes along the way -- large and small. But all too often, that decision-making happens without full consideration of the best available data.
This is particularly true in the case of service delivery -- how services are rendered to users, customers and business partners via IT architectures. The goal should be to replace guesswork with analysis, detect and utilize trends and patterns that guide decision-making, and wherever possible, proactively address problems before they even have a chance to manifest.
This may sound like common sense, but it's not -- at least judging by the way services are typically monitored and managed today. While most organizations have monitoring capabilities, they're still essentially handling outages in a reactive fashion.
A typical pattern: service goes down -- service outage is detected -- root cause is detected -- root cause is fixed -- service comes back online.
Let's compare that to this: service is predicted to go down -- IT takes steps to prevent that -- service never goes down.
You can improve on that still further by adding prioritization to refine the middle stage: IT takes preventative steps in the order that makes the most business sense, based on the anticipated business impact of downtime in different scenarios.
This is not a trivial improvement, but a dramatic one. And it makes the business as a whole much more agile.
Smarter processes: Connect the dots, simplify, and help your people collaborate better
Is there similar room for improvement in the way business processes typically work? You bet there is.
For instance, think of what happens when new software is created and rolled out -- software of the kind that drives all kinds of services to paying customers. This is usually a pretty clumsy process, and those paying customers are at the receiving end of the clumsiness.
See if this sounds familiar. The development team comes out with a build; the ops team deploys the build; customers try the new software and soon report that the build has problems. Then the development team comes up with a new build and the cycle starts all over again.
Well, so far so good, but the problem is that there's usually not much collaboration between the dev team and the ops team. Perhaps a new build requires a new set of Java libraries -- are the ops guys aware of that? If not, well...oops.
Similarly, if customers report problems to ops, is that information really getting back to the dev guys as fast as it could? Does that transfer of information resemble a cheetah? Or a glacier?
A much, much more agile process emerges when the dev guys and the ops guys share their information collaboratively, at all times, so that they're both aware just what's needed to render a better experience to customers. Which, really, is the whole point.
Smarter service delivery: Use the most efficient, scalable technologies
Here, we're talking in large part about delivery platforms themselves: the actual infrastructure that renders services to the people who use them.
If you've paid any attention to IT journalism in the last five years, your mental predictive analytics might tell you where I'm going next: cloud. That's because the improvements in agility you can get via cloud computing are absolutely stunning.
If you want a clear example, just look at provisioning times for cloud-based virtual servers. Manual provisioning, in a distributed architecture, typically takes days or weeks for a server cluster. Automatic, policy-driven provisioning in a cloud? Not weeks, but minutes. And every one of those virtual servers will be set up in exactly the right way -- no inadvertent mistakes. This is about as agile and accurate as you can get.
Mix and match to suit your needs
Now, in the course of trotting out my arguments, I have simplified things quite a bit. So let me add that there are a lot more capabilities, in each of these three areas, than the ones I've discussed.
And let me also add that if you work with IBM Software to improve your overall agility, you're basically able to order as if from a Chinese menu -- any capabilities you want, in any of the three areas, selected to address your particular needs and goals.
But any road you take, I think you'll struggle to come up with anybody but IBM who has all the experience, and all the solutions, you're going to need.
And that's why I say IBM is simply better positioned to help organizations improve their business agility, regardless of their specific context, than any other single IT provider you can name today.
Learn more about Business Agility
Business Agility – Predictive Business Service Management
Business Agility – Collaborative Development and Operations
Read about Business Service Management
Attend an IBM Business Agility Executive Forum near you
View the Information Week Webcast on Business Agility
About the author
Guest blogger Wes Simonds worked in IT for seven years before becoming a technology writer on topics including virtualization, cloud computing and service management. He lives in sunny Austin, Texas and believes Mexican food should always be served with queso.