Setting Priorities To Achieve Agility

Agility: where do you start?

Most organizations aren't prepared for performance management. Business and IT managers widely agree that performance management is important to meet corporate goals and direct IT efforts cost effectively, but IT hasn't made it a priority to align its investments in information management with efforts to integrate applications, data and events. This alignment is critical to eliminate duplication of efforts and increase information quality and delivery.

The current focus on IT portfolio management and cost reduction has shifted significant resources to nonstrategic technological priorities such as service-oriented architecture (SOA). What will SOA and grid-based computing architectures do to make business more agile in the foreseeable future? For most, the near-term payoff has yet to be articulated.

Putting together a blueprint for an agile enterprise is a nice concept, but it's hard to implement because IT systems have become less flexible as business processes have grown more complex. What's the appropriate balance between addressing performance and process improvement through applications versus adopting next-generation IT architecture and computing paradigms?

Decisions about how to make technology investments have never been more critical, and the capital and resources never more scrutinized or difficult to obtain. New IT architectures and forms of computing should be more practical and address business and IT priorities such as process and performance improvement, but perhaps I'm being too pragmatic. Since the technology vendors haven't explained the direct business value of SOA and grid computing, two initiatives — information and integration management — should take precedence. They're critical, difficult areas of computing, but they'll help you achieve better alignment between business and IT by supporting performance management and improving your organization's effectiveness.

Information management is about enabling businesses to use information in applications and IT and manage it cost-effectively — perhaps a novel idea and premise for some CIOs out there. Unfortunately, the responsibility for building the IT for information management has been split in many different directions, including ERP, CRM and other application vendors, the database vendors, such as IBM and Oracle, and the business intelligence market.

All these divergent investments have created a large gap for you to address. What's missing is a strong foundation for information management, as many of you have begun to realize in your BI/performance management implementations. Such a foundation is required for enterprisewide efforts that can ensure consistent, quality information across the business to support efforts in compliance and performance improvement.

Integration management addresses how to control all your organization's integration demands. There have been many integration technology advancements and vendor consolidations that are improving total cost of ownership and speeding return on investment, but do these technologies offer what businesses require? The debate over which integration approach to take — application, data or information — is pointless because all forms of systems and applications integration are required.

The key question is how quickly can these integration technologies be adapted to meet business application needs and information requirements? As performance management takes precedence, IT professionals who respond with technology that can help realize performance management goals will advance their careers.

By all means, keep an eye on the advances of SOA, grid computing and other cutting-edge areas, but work harder to translate the technobabble for businesspeople so they can understand the investments required. Focus on improving centralized and distributed information management and on leveraging integration technologies that support performance management and related business imperatives such as compliance management, process improvement and profitability management. Your efforts will help align business and IT, improve organizational agility and get past the technobabble.

MARK SMITH is CEO and Senior Vice President of Research at Ventana Research. Write to him at [email protected].

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