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Issue of January 2005 

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Agility in business

IT and Business Process Re-engineering have to converge

Due to the dynamic business scene, IT deployments across the enterprise are also subject to drastic changes. To address this need to evolve, organisations need to become agile according to Amit Mitra, ex-director of NYNEX & ex-Chief Methodologist of AIG. by Deepali Gupta

How is business changing and what is the new role IT will have to play?

While products are important because they create the company brand, it is what goes around the product that is critical now. Even if you add functions to the product, the bottom line is that it has to be user-friendly. Without this it will only offer low level value. So a company will not get paid to make a car, it'll get paid to design a car. The car will be a given thing. It will be the utilities and added functions that will make the difference. So the whole concentration is shifting. Both product and function level support must be efficient and that has to be supported by IT.

Product management, and customer support with call centres, will be the world's largest technology driven functions. The amount of profit value that these systems generate is enormous. However, if the system goes down someone has to be able to make decisions at the same speeds as when the system was active.

IT has a role in all of this. The kind of software being used becomes the expression of business. IT has to become the facilitator of change by being deployed in an intelligent manner.

The present is dynamic. Compa-nies that cannot keep pace with change will die out or get acquired. In such a scenario there are five critical things any business needs to weigh carefully: the business aim, technology to support the targets, human resource skills, and change management.

How does an organisation keep pace with change?

Agility is the key to keep pace with change. The industry must address the need for agility. Typically we are walking into a different paradigm. The twentieth century was the industrial age. We are moving to a post industrial knowledge economy. Thanks to international communications, political borders are blurring when it comes to business. It's a different landscape and we are just at the starting point in terms of knowledge-sharing. Today, there is intense competition and knowledge is at the pinnacle.

The use of creative information, as a knowledge product, is to change what requires change. You can't take aim and shoot and expect to hit the target without any work. The nature of the business has to change and IT should not be an obstacle to change because now it is intimately moulded into the information products.

So, what is the ideal business and IT architecture companies should look at?

There is no ideal, and I don't think there can ever be a one size fits all solution, but all the structures are really there to keep you updated. Eventually, it depends on the goal of the organisation.

The bottom line is that IT and Business Process Re-engineering (BPR) have to converge and with that you need to look out for the process of change to make the organisation extremely agile, and react to the market and industry, and pre-empt the competition. This is because once your customer goes away, even if you fix your problem the customer is still lost forever. No company can afford to do that in a global economy. Reduction of internal costs will result from efficient and quality governance.

The value of the company is up front, the interface should be agile so that you can quickly innovate at the strategic level and update the business processes at a back level.

Businesses need to create new functions and change the way they do business to cater to the information age. Information ethics have to be coordinated to be leveraged to the fullest.

What is the CIO’s role in all of this?

Business Process Management (BPM) and the CIO role so far have been separated but they are now beginning to converge. At some point, more than a CIO, a Chief Knowledge Officer (CKO) is required. The CKO can coordinate the flow of knowledge, help the information to come through the CIO and find how it can change the business in terms of strategy.

IT has a value chain just like the business, and the business value chain starts with how you position your business and how you position your products in the environment. If the business is going to push to the global level, the IT strategy has to support that kind of growth.

What do we do about the information explosion?

The industry has known about this for a long time. When implementations get large and complex you can control them by effective communication. You have to have communication with integration to have the right support. That's where solutions such as CRM come into play. The business and IT architecture should address communication issues.

What should the IT Head of a start up SMB do to set up an agile IT architecture?

Small businesses are lucky because they have no legacy. It pays for a business to start with an integrated environment. The CIO, of such a company, has to figure the IT strategy, which will actually be an offshoot of the business strategy. He shouldn't build silos of information. First he needs to ask what value do I bring to the organisation and how do I create it?

Quality of the workforce is also extremely important. An educated workforce will be capable of taking on the spot decisions and IT will enable that using BI, processes, infrastructure, contact points. Everyone should have access to the knowledge base.

Deepali Gupta can be reached at:

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