The Never-Ending Journey to the Agile Enterprise

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    Amid all of the head-spinning technological innovations that have hit the enterprise over the past decade, the overriding theme is agility. Enterprises that do not build agility into their application and service capabilities will not survive the transition to a digital economy – simple as that.

    But agility is a moving target, since it can manifest itself in so many ways across complex data architectures and is measured in terms of degrees, not absolutes. So no matter how agile you think you are, there is always the chance that someone is ready to out-agile you.

    According to Deltek Vice President Neil Davidson, agility is paramount these days for one simple reason: Customers expect it. With digital services replacing legacy business models at a rapid clip, failure to adapt means failure to capitalize on new market opportunities and revenue streams. The biggest inhibitor to agility, of course, is rigid, inflexible infrastructure that requires a lot of time, effort and money to repurpose for new services, ultimately diminishing the value of that infrastructure and the data it contains. Make no mistake, the agility challenge is huge – Gartner estimates that only 30 percent of digital transformation initiatives will succeed – but the alternative is the inevitable decline of the enterprise as a competitive force.

    The million-, or perhaps billion-, dollar question, of course, is exactly how to build agility into emerging infrastructure platforms. For Dell’s Steve Bo, one of the keys is to layer it on top of hybrid cloud deployments using automation, orchestration and artificial intelligence. A top challenge is to support both steady and wildly fluctuating workloads, which Dell accommodates by creating a “utility zone” within the hybrid architecture that provides the on-demand capabilities of cloud-based resource consumption with the security, availability and control of dedicated hardware. In this way, the enterprise can implement agile architectures without isolating them from legacy workloads.

    And this is just to get the agile ball rolling. As VersionOne’s Lee Cunningham pointed out to InfoQ recently, the real job is to scale agile into production environments and then beyond IT altogether into business processes and the business model itself. This will require more than simple technology but a broader mind-shift within the knowledge workforce that they are no longer limited by technological constraints but have virtually unlimited capability to achieve the goals they set for themselves. In many ways, this will be immensely more difficult than building agile capabilities because it involves retraining a multi-generational mindset that has existed since the dawn of the computing age.

    Indeed, said BMC CEO Bob Beauchamp at the company’s recent Engage conference, probably the biggest inhibitor to agility is the institutional complacency that grips many legacy enterprises. This is one of the lessons that innovators like Uber and Amazon are trying to drum out of the workforce even as their business models upend many long-standing industries. In Uber’s case, a mobile ride-sharing app can quickly become marginalized when the need for actual drivers diminishes, which is why the company, which has no experience building, maintaining or providing actual vehicles, is investing heavily in autonomous cars.

    As mentioned above, there is no fine line between agile and not agile, so the enterprise is literally taking the first steps on a perpetual journey to improve its operations, enhance its value to both customers and owners, and remain relevant in a world where relevancy is as ephemeral the latest mobile app.

    It won’t be easy to survive, let alone thrive, in such an environment, but it will be downright impossible without agility.

    Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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