Business Technology: The Need For Agility - InformationWeek

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Business Technology: The Need For Agility

If business-technology people were the self-pitying type--and in my experience, the vast majority of you are anything but that--you might tend to feel a bit unloved by the gods as you're assailed for being inflexible but also too focused on innovation; for being too conservative but also being required to cut capital spending, reduce head count, and eliminate outsiders while delivering strategic new initiatives on time and below budget; for being told to be a business leader but also being expected to follow rather than lead business initiatives. But I've always sensed that you're a resilient, indomitable bunch, and that while you might not mind a stretch of, oh, six weeks where the top 10 priorities weren't scrambled more than twice, you're able to roll and regroup with the vagaries of business cycles and corporate strategies and market forces.

With those noble qualities in mind, you should all take a deep breath and promise that the next Mission: Impossible task to arrive in your in-box won't cause you to identify with a couple of famous ancient Greek guys who were also given some pretty thorny assignments: Prometheus, who stole fire from heaven and gave it to humans, for which he was rewarded by his very own father by being chained to a rock and having a vulture peck out his liver, day after day after day; and Sisyphus, who not only was sentenced to eternity in Hades but also had to spend that eternity pushing a heavy rock up a hill only to have the unkind god gravity pull it back down each time, over and over and over.

Because now that you've slain the ERP dragon and were seduced by but escaped from and made a happy peace with the CRM sirens and took on the multiheaded gorgon of collaborative business, it's time not for a couple of stiff drinks but rather for another confrontation. In this one, you're expected to be a driving force behind getting the line managers in your companies to become more agile, more prepared to react instantly and decisively and knowledgeably, and ultimately more effective. (Courage--just remember the guy chained to the rock and his daily visits from the vulture.)

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-- From The New York Times, Aug. 21

We at InformationWeek and Optimize think we can help. And while we can't claim to have all the right answers, we do believe we've got some of the key questions and some of the right approaches lined out. To begin with, in next month's issue of Optimize, we have a superb new article from frequent contributor C.K. Prahalad and colleagues M.S. Krishnan and Venkat Ramaswamy, professors at the University of Michigan. In this latest article, which will be available in September's print issue ofOptimize and, beginning Sept. 3, on the magazine's Web site, Prahalad argues that "Agility is based on the capacity of a company's information infrastructure to respond to the individual needs of heterogeneous line managers in a large organization. Unfortunately for business-technology executives, there's a huge impediment to a simple resolution: Existing IT infrastructures fall short of supporting this requirement. Guess whose responsibility it is to fix the problem?"

Prahalad also notes that, as always, the solution involves much more than updated technology: "Prior to creating an infrastructure to support agility, line managers need to be trained to think independently of the current information design and generate questions that are purely business-insight-oriented. A capacity for providing the information to answer such questions is crucial in the new infrastructure agility." We're honored to have C.K. as one of our keynote speakers at next month's InformationWeek Fall Conference, at which time he'll explain this new strategy in depth. It's a subject that all of us at InformationWeek will be turning toward in the coming weeks--we'll be looking for your ideas, suggestions, and criticism to help us deliver to you the most relevant and most valuable insights.

Speaking of innovative approaches to the increasingly strategic role of business technology, the next session of the Stanford University and InformationWeek Boot Camp focuses on "Redefining IT Leadership" and will be held Oct. 20 to 24 on Stanford's campus in Palo Alto, Calif. For more information, check out

Bob Evans
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