“Take a deep breath, get your house in order and focus on agility.” Tim Murfet has some pretty strong advice for CIOs and IT directors, but as managing partner for global architecture and core technology at IT services giant Accenture in Europe, his perceptions are shaped by what leading-edge technology adopters are already doing to achieve business agility.
He paints some background to that insight. What has resulted in the past few years, under the influence of the economy, delays in technology delivery and the growth of the Internet, are three major shifts: commoditisation, architectural standardisation and consolidation.
“If you look at the technology stack, everything is being commoditised – from the operating systems, to execution architectures, even at the integration layer. The benefit is that IT architecture groups can now focus on achieving business process flexibility for the organisation.
Directly related to that is standardisation: “There may be Windows, Unix and Linux, but there are only two architectures, .Net and J2EE, and one or two hardware platforms. But all of these things have actually come together in an enormous amount of standardisation.”
The result is widespread consolidation of systems within the IT stack and a concomitant consolidation within the industry.
From that new base, CIOs are focusing on 14 strategic areas: seven centred on improving efficiency, seven on supporting agility.
- Global souring models, with a renewed emphasis on quality of specification, acceptance and managing programmes.
- The tiering and prioritisation of IT initiatives based on the value delivered to the business.
- Standardised risk management covering the business risk and the IT risk.
- A return to formal systems development methods, particularly with multi-site development.
- Consolidation of applications on .Net and J2EE, with an increasing focus on open source.
- Rationalisation of infrastructures with a focus on the Intel platform.
- The acceptance of a performance culture based on IT Infrastructure Library (ITIL) processes.
- Beyond that, the second seven priorities he observes are focused on maximising agility and business value.
- Business process outsourcing and business-on-demand linked to global sourcing strategies.
- Taking a business process view within IT, underpinned by an architecture that supports business process flexibility and is directly related to business costs.
- Enterprise identity management, with single sign on and system-to-system identity transfer.
- Customer focused IT architectures linked to several cutting-edge technologies, including mobility, RFID tags and information insight.
- Service-oriented integration driven by a flexible framework based on web services.
- Utility computing and the building of high-speed networks of systems and storage resources.
- Off-the-shelf integrated technology architectures that come with development architectures and operations architectures as part of the core software platform.
But overriding those specific strategies should be some high-level thinking. “The first step in terms of agility has to be to establish an agenda for change – a two or three year plan for IT that is mapped very closely to shareholder value. That will provide a framework for all key decisions. CIOs should work out the business levers for their business, and map IT investments to them,” says Murfet.
That is a daunting challenge, but there has been scope for reassessment. “We are three-quarters of the way through that breathing space. That presents the opportunity to create an IT structure that supports business values and business agility. “Take it before things start to heat up again,” he counsels.