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Tuesday, October 4, 2011 by Neil Ward-Dutton
In the quest for ever more ‘business meaningful messaging’, I’ve noticed that the concept of ‘business agility’ has become ever more commonly deployed by software and hardware vendors.
There’s nothing at all wrong with business agility as an aspirational goal, of course: no business wants to be seen to be clumsy. What I have a problem with is when said vendors attempt to draw direct connections between a technology product – which, if deployed and used well, can improve technology flexibility – and business agility. This is when things break. “Our technology makes your business agile”, so it goes. I call BS!
Making a business – or at least, the parts of it that make sense – more agile requires you to review and be prepared to change people’s incentives, business measurement systems, skills and training plans, information sharing and collaboration practices, operating models and procedures, and management culture – and probably more. Even if we just confine ourselves to the technology domain then increasing business agility is likely to require you to review architecture, governance, portfolio and change management practices. If you don’t at least think about this stuff, then the most you might be able to do is increase potential technology flexibility.
There’s another wrinkle here, too – which is that from a business manager’s perspective (if we assume that they’re an IT layperson) it might seem perfectly reasonable to enable business change by simply investing in a toolkit of new, lightweight, easy-to-use technologies and applications and letting the ‘heritage’ systems atrophy in the background. They’ve just created a technology foundation for business agility! Haven’t they?
Well, yes and no. The key realisation here is that agility is something that – if you’re serious about it – has to be sustainable and sustained for the long haul. It’s not something you can just worry about for 6 months and then forget about.
Netting this all out, where have we got to?
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.
Of course, that’s hardly a straplline that a software marketer is going to latch onto. Catchy it ain’t! But I do think that if you’re trying to sell enterprise technology, it pays to demonstrate to your customers that you understand the bigger picture.
What do you think – do simplistic explanations of technology value seduce people into expecting technology silver bullets? Or do have most managers and decision makers become adept at filtering this kind of stuff out unconsciously, so we can afford to ignore it?