The CIO Agenda – Organizational Agility

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Oak Hill, VA – Conway’s Law from 1968 states, “Organizations which design systems are constrained to produce designs which are copies of the communication structures of these organizations.” In other words, systems designers tends to “follow and pave the cow paths.”

These cow paths are nothing but existing processes, procedures and communication patterns of the organization. Business change management services offered by boutique consulting firms have mushroomed over the years to provide solutions and defy Conway’s Law, but I ask the question, “Really?”

Contemporary management consultants take client problems, scrutinize them, and provide a solution from predetermined solution packs offered by their firm, refusing to adapt to clients’ real problems, and thrusting them with contracting and change request process-type client relationships.

In a way, these firms are actually leading the client problem through the same cow path, albeit a newer one with a garden full of roses; these boutique firms have all fallen prey to taking the easy path of “paving the cow paths.”

We are in a technology cycle with major ICT systems outliving their life and needing to be upgraded. Classical goals for these ICT systems have been performance, to be cutting edge, top of the line, and excellent ROI. CIOs’ (chief information officers’) challenges are far more complex than just hitting the above goals.

Contemporary vision needs to go above and beyond in serving customers and driving shareholder value. CIOs need to enable ICT systems to identify and predict the incremental demands of customer segments in different markets and simultaneously, device methods to extract this incremental profit for stakeholders.

In a net-enabled society, the means of identifying how information traverses and what is being shared among customer demographics is worth exploring. This environment brings to focus fundamental questions on developing and designing systems to effectively support end-to-end fulfillment.

Exploration of building these systems can begin by asking questions. Beyond the customer base, who else might need service? How do we design the service to support more consumers? What capabilities belong in service versus consuming applications? Where and what is the real value in substituting information into physical processes?

The leadership challenge to a CIO is to mobilize organizational assets, human resources and IT assets. The task at hand is to untangle and find answers to the above questions. The questions may not change over time, but answers change as the situation changes; to maintain the pace of this change, organizational assets needs to be agile. Agile organizations are better equipped to find the optimal answers to the same questions in different times and different markets.

The agile business case study can lead to identifying a framework and work culture to assist human resources’ assets in defying Conway’s Law. Agile organizations with a developed feedback loop and agile project governance have capabilities to identify the cow paths and discover optimal answers.

An agile framework provides an environment and tools to make decisions and later change it per market conditions in the most cost effective way. In a cosmic world, under circumstances of so many unknowns, nature embraces change by adopting an agile way of life, leading to Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest. How can an organization stay immune? They need to change, be agile or perish.

Amod Desai
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Amod Desai is an IT management consultant who writes about futuristic science and technology. Desai, an engineer and management consultant, specializes in information technology and business transformation. He is an alumina of George Mason University School of Management. 

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