Business Agility and the Platform

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A common perception of business agility is that 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 turned up the dial on everyday business.

Part one in organizing for agility might consist of building applications that accurately reflect the business processes lines of business engage in, while building them in ways that can be maintained easily and modified as the business grows. Many people think this involves a mix of the latest hardware, such as handheld devices, and their apps. However, it ought to include all other devices as well as a governance model, which is part two.

Governance can be nebulous -- something for an offsite experience that ends in walking on hot coals, perhaps. 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 an electronics company CIO 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.

The electronics company's IT group had seen a lot and learned from what it had been part of. That's why the CIO chose to embed IT people in the LOB, so that IT could be helpful and guide its partners throughout the app lifecycle. It helped that there were several agile application development methodologies in circulation, too.

On the flip side, they also used 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, was done by IT -- but a lot of decisions about user interface, look and feel, and even which data to capture were the purview of the LOB users. The result was apps and an organization capable of responding to change efficiently, helping the business maintain its position in customer accounts.

Notice that at no point was anyone specifically required to speed something up. I think that's because business already is operating at pretty close to its speed limit. To do more and to do it better, it will be necessary from now on to change as the customer changes -- to ensure that 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 over all of this is the idea of the platform and a new way of thinking. The platform isn't just about rapid application development -- it's equally about bringing together services like business intelligence, workflow, journey mapping and a lot more, because those things support end-to-end business processes, and that's where I think all of this is heading.

Companies like Salesforce and Oracle -- but also upstarts like Metavine, Outsystems and Mendix -- are 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.

Denis Pombriant is a well-known CRM industry researcher, strategist, writer and speaker. His new book, You Can't Buy Customer Loyalty, But You Can Earn It, is now available on Amazon. His 2015 book, Solve for the Customer, is also available there. He can be reached at [email protected]

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