'Fluid' software needed for agile businesses - Gartner

Business processes cannot be etched in stone, and software must become suitably flexible so that firms can adapt to changes quickly, say analysts

IT leaders need "a new generation of software" that will enable companies to respond more quickly to the changing needs of their business, Gartner analysts said yesterday.

"To achieve the required agility, software must become more fluid and be able to adapt effectively to new demands without needing constant redesign," a leading analyst told delegates to the Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2004. "A key component to managing and controlling the changing nature of software will be a service-oriented architecture (SOA)."

Kristian Steenstrup said he found that users and vendors were paranoid in dealing with the challenge of agility when it came to packaged software.

"In many cases building a model of your business process with the software during implementation is easy but once you go live the processes become etched in stone," he said.

He added that although a company's business applications matched processes of "the old way of doing business", some can't keep up with even the small demands from users for changes in business processes.

In many situations, Steenstrup said, "packaged implementations may offer the needed functionality and the initial flexibility to model business processes but they can totally fail with respect to agility."

However, Steenstrup said that over time, he has observed that business applications have been undergoing a "metamorphosis themselves as they increase the value they create within organisations, and the main motivations or drivers for investing in applications, also changes".

Steenstrup's advice is that companies pick their vendor "ecosystem" and determine where they need the most agility. "And then simplify and consolidate outside that ecosystem -- there will inevitably be systems that don't fit -- but rationalise and reduce them where you can. And overall, shift the focus of IT governance from procurement to agility."

Dion Wiggins, vice-president and research director predicts: "In a world where SOA is an accepted framework, each element in the development process becomes a service. This increases software and business agility as it's easier to rearrange the process to suit changing business needs and respond in a timely manner. This will significantly shift IT projects from large multi-year marathons, to rapid deployment gap applications and reconfiguration of existing systems via process-based tools."

Another Gartner analyst, John Roberts, said "agility is about a lot more than just applying technology. Companies have to consciously design agility into workforce programs, business processes, and organisational and governance principles".

He added that too often, the agility that businesses need is often "thwarted" by the IT infrastructure.

"Too often I meet with IT departments who have a distinctly different agenda to their business colleagues. IT is focused on the technology silos instead of business enhancement. If IT priorities are not linked to business priorities, then any agility that the business needs is often thwarted by the IT infrastructure. It's as if the company has electronic processes cast in concrete," Roberts said.

"Agile organisations seek people with multiple competencies who can perform a variety of roles in multiple projects. In the IT world, agile organisations stretch beyond technical aptitude and instead reach for competencies in information design, process design and relationship management," he added.

Gartner analysts emphasised that businesses should come up with a strong "change readiness programme" in order to be ready for seizing opportunities and preparing for planned or unplanned disruptions.

"A strong change readiness programme overcomes people's natural resistance by telling them what's happening, giving them the confidence, tools and education to prepare for the changes and then building incentives, acknowledgment and performance measures that encourage effectiveness amid change," Roberts said.

The Gartner Symposium/ITxpo 2004 opened in Sydney yesterday and will end on Friday, with 1,600 senior business and IT decision makers across Australia, New Zealand and Asia Pacific gathering to meet with over 50 international and local Gartner analysts. ZDNet Australia's Kristyn Maslog-Levis reported from Sydney. For more coverage from ZDNet Australia, click here.

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