How to apply IT to build business agility

A recent article in Computerworld (U.S.) indicates that IT is struggling with agility, while other articles have cited the diminishing influence of the CIO.

IT is a tough job, but it’s no tougher than other jobs in business. We IT people have had a privileged position based on the mystery and prestige of technology. In the past four years, that has changed, and now business wants us to be just as accountable as the rest of the company. That means no more excuses.

The fact that we need to get the cooperation of end users in order to change business processes and become agile is nothing new, nor is users’ reluctance to give up their time from their real jobs and get engaged in IT. These situations aren’t unique to IT, nor are they valid excuses for our failure.

What would we think of salespeople who said that they couldn’t meet their quotas because customers and prospects didn’t want to make time to see them and understand their products? It’s the salesperson’s job to get out in front of customers and sell the benefits of the product. Isn’t this also true for IT?

Many IT people seem to think being agile means using some new product such as portfolio management software. Agility arises from a state of mind, a way of looking at and responding to the world, an ability to respond quickly and creatively to a continuously changing environment.

We IT people need to learn to use what we already have in more effective ways. We need to improve our understanding of the businesses that employ us and use our common sense to figure out how IT can help our companies increase revenues or cut costs. It’s just that simple.

It isn’t helpful for Meta Group, Gartner or any other think tank to tell me how complex it is to achieve agility.

Let me offer some ideas of my own that my company is successfully using:

• Quickly build systems that are good — not perfect.

• Let computers do the routine work.

• Build high-volume and technically simple systems to support these routine transactions.

• Focus people on handling the exceptions. All the system needs to do is trap the data related to an exception and alert a person to handle it.

• Exception handling is interesting. It involves thinking, communicating with others and problem solving.

• Continuously adjust systems and processes based on experience. Regardless of the exception’s cause, there is a profit opportunity if an organization can respond effectively. As people discover and eliminate causes of transaction errors, systems change accordingly, so the systems infrastructure of an agile organization is continuously evolving.

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