IT-Enabled Business Agility

IT-Enabled Business Agility

          
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IT-Enabled Business Agility

A Sports Analogy
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  • In This Article
    • One of the most critical capabilities that a company can have in today's digitized business world is agility.

    • True business agility encompasses a wide range of attributes.

    • The IT organization, given its role and reach within the company, is uniquely positioned to deliver game-changing degrees of agility.

     

    Companies are starting to realize that one of the most critical business capabilities in a digital world is agility. But what, specifically, do we mean by that word? The sports universe, especially team sports such as football, soccer, hockey, and basketball, provides a useful analogy.

    Agility at the level of the individual player demands a suite of raw physical attributes, such as the ability to accelerate rapidly, stop and change course quickly, and elude opponents with minimal effort. It also, less obviously, calls on the player’s eyes, ears, and brain. A truly agile player will be able to think ahead and improvise when the situation demands it.

    Agility at the team level has an additional, overarching layer of requirements. These include the ability to create a high degree of synergy among the individuals on the field at a particular moment. The same holds for business. Agility at the individual level is clearly vital to a company’s success. But the ability to unify those individual players and get them to fire together on all cylinders at the same time—to demonstrate agility as a unit—is even more important. And it is proportionately harder to achieve.

    In team sports, the individual and collective capabilities necessary for a high degree of agility include the following elements of both playing and coaching:

    • Understanding the entire playing field and knowing the location of all the players, both teammates and opponents

    • Anticipating where all those players will be in a few seconds based on their current trajectories, speeds, and abilities

    • Quickly identifying the opportunity spaces, such as passing lanes and openings to run through

    • Quickly changing course (stopping, turning, spinning, or jumping over) when necessary

    • Accelerating rapidly, throwing accurately, and tackling

    • Using many different weapons (for example, the hands, feet, and head)

    • Knowing how to train players so they are agile individually

    • Putting the right subset of the team on the field at the right time

    • Working out plays that the entire team can learn and calling the right one at the right time

    • Adapting to different playing fields and surfaces

    Each of these capabilities has its analogue in the business world. And companies have other potential means of increasing their agility that sports teams generally lack:

    • Knowing when to choose a different playing field to increase the odds of success

    • Changing the rules of the game

    • Recognizing when it is time to change the game completely—and being able to do so

    True agility, especially in business, is a broad concept that encompasses a wide range of attributes and capabilities. Developing them, especially in today’s digital world, will demand a concerted effort from the entire enterprise and the aggressive leveraging of one key asset in particular: the IT organization. Given its role and reach within the business, the IT organization is uniquely positioned to deliver difference-making degrees of agility at both the individual and “team,” or companywide, levels. IT can increase individual employees’ speed, accuracy, efficiency, and flexibility by digitizing rote business activities. It can go further by helping these individuals gain better perspective and insight on the rest of the company—and on the company’s products, services, customers, competitors, and suppliers—by providing them with the right information at the right time in a manner that does not overload their eyes, ears, and brains.

    The IT organization can help make the entire enterprise more agile by helping it build modular components that can be quickly combined into “solution architectures” for specific opportunities. These modular components typically include business processes, the underlying software and infrastructure components, and people with specific capabilities. Such solution architectures are analogous to the discrete offense, defense, and special-teams “services” in American football. These units come equipped with prearranged plays for specific situations and with individuals who have specific capabilities and the ability to work together on the fly.

    Delivering this degree of agility to the organization is a high aspiration, to be sure. It requires dramatically improved capabilities to make it happen and to make it happen fast. But it is possible. Stay tuned for our next edition of IT Advantage, in which we will explore in more depth the characteristics of high-performance IT organizations that are empowering their companies with high—and winning—levels of business agility.


    Acknowledgments

    The authors would like to thank Jean-François Bobier for his contributions to this article.

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