We all think we know what business agility is and often it revolves around quickness, especially quickness in the service of accelerating a deal or transaction. That’s a good starting point but agility actually goes deeper especially now that so many structural changes like cloud computing and subscriptions have already turned up the dial on everyday business.
Part one in organizing for agility might be about building applications for your lines of business that accurately reflect the business processes they engage in but also building them in ways that are easily maintainable and modifiable as the business grows. Many people think this involves a mix of the latest hardware such as hand held devices and their apps. But it also ought to include the rest of your devices as well as a governance model, which is part two.
Governance can be nebulous, something for an offsite that ends in walking on hot coals, perhaps. But really, governance needs to be more and it’s as much about what you do as what you don’t do. A couple of weeks ago I was on a call with the CIO of an electronics company who summarized his position perfectly. His organization promotes standards for new cloud applications, such as compatibility with the existing cloud infrastructure. If a proposed cloud app doesn’t meet the standard, it’s not allowed in the evaluation process. But that’s just the beginning.
Governance also needs a methodology model to define how LOBs and IT work together, such as what IT provides and the limits of what an LOB can do on its own. This IT group has seen a lot and learned from what it’s been part of, which is why the CIO embeds IT people in the LOB so that IT can be helpful and guide its partners throughout the app lifecycle. It helps that there are several agile application development methodologies in circulation, too.
On the flip side, they also use modern development tools based on a platform that enables both business users and IT specialists to contribute to the lifecycle. Tough coding such as for algorithms might be done by IT, but a lot of UI, look and feel, and even what data gets captured is the purview of the LOB user. The result is apps and an organization that can respond to change efficiently to help the business maintain its position in customer accounts.
Notice that at no point in this discussion was anyone specifically required to speed something up. I think that’s because business is already operating at pretty close to its speed limit. To do more and to do it better from now on it’s necessary to change as the customer changes, to ensure that we as vendors can identify and participate in customer moments of truth even as they evolve. That requires business agility and business agility begins with having the flexibility to augment the systems that support customer-facing processes.
Looming in all this is the idea of the platform and a way of thinking. The platform isn’t just about rapid application development it’s equally about bringing together services like BI, workflow, journey mapping and a lot more because those things support end to end business processes and that’s where I think all this is heading. Companies like Salesforce and Oracle but also upstarts like Metavine, Outsystems, and Mendix are all trying to be platform vendors and make this vision real.
Last point, what’s the difference between a bot and a good automated customer-facing application today? It’s getting hard to tell I think and this suggests why agility is so important.