“When the rate of change outside exceeds the rate of change inside, the end is in sight,” warned Jack Welch, the former CEO of GE, in his book, From the Gut. In yet another busy month of consolidation and change in business, it was this kind of sentiment that attracted more than 100 executives to the Information Age Agile Business conference in London on June 26.
The conference set out to provide insight into how organisations can best organise themselves, and in particular their information systems, to deal with rapid external change. They were given some radical, and in some cases surprising and disturbing advice from some of the keynote speakers.
Peter Korsten, the leader of the European IBM Institute for Business Value, warned that companies must adopt four strategies in order to respond to the volatility and the pressures of modern business. First, they must focus on differentiating competencies – and they should give everything else to partners. In practice, that could mean outsourcing as much as half of everything a business does.
Second, they should develop methods of sensing and responding to unpredictable changes as they occur.
Third, they should adopt variable cost structures and business processes, so they are not caught with large overheads when there are sudden downturns – or caught unprepared when new opportunities emerge.
And fourth, they should put in place systems that enable the organisation to operate normally even when there are major external crises.
Tim Murfet, the head of global architecture and core technology for Accenture, set out a series of 14 actions that chief information officers should adopt in order to increase their agility, minimise risk and increase their strategic influence.
Among these are: centralise and standardise risk management; return to using system development methods (which have largely fallen into disuse); use only .NET or J2EE for development; standardise on a hardware platform (probably Intel); put in place a process-based performance culture; put in place an architecture that supports process flexibility; put in place a service-based integration framework; and adopt customer-focused IT architectures.
Microsoft’s UK chief technology officer, Anthony Saxby, meanwhile, said that in his view, the project-based funding structure adopted by many organisations is actually an impediment to achieving agility. This is because companies do not necessarily put in place the complete information infrastructure that would give them that flexibility.
This management report pulls together best practice advice from all the speakers at the conference to help organisations plan, manage and execute their business agility strategies.