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1.8 Business Agility and Legacy Systems

If organizational infrastructures had undergone no changes since early computing architectures were designed during the 1960s and 1970s, there would be little need to apply transformation solutions to these architectures. Businesses have changed, however, and as those changes proliferate, driven by the e-business explosion and other major factors, IT will need to respond with more sophisticated solutions.

Because change is the only constant and it appears that it will only quicken, the modern enterprise must be agile. The agile enterprise can be generally defined as having the following attributes.

  • Customer information should be readily and accurately available to facilitate the launching of new initiatives or entry into new markets.

  • New products and services can be introduced quickly and efficiently.

  • Ineffective products and services can be discontinued quickly and efficiently.

  • Customer requirements are always handled in a high-priority, rapid turnaround fashion.

  • Shifting supply and distribution requirements can be met as needed.

  • Change is accepted and welcomed as an ongoing part of the business model.

The need for agility is commonplace across virtually every industry. Automotive conglomerates have divested subsidiaries while merging and moving into foreign markets. Oil companies have undergone global mergers. Media companies are merging with communications providers to synthesize and leverage their offerings. The federal government has redistributed benefit functions to the states. Enterprises are becoming decentralized, deregulated, consolidated, and diversified at a pace hard to imagine just a few years ago.

While many factors contribute to being an agile enterprise, an organization's information systems play a major role. Unfortunately, most legacy systems prevent businesses from being more adaptable to change. As businesses, governments, and entire industries continue to evolve at an increasing pace, organizations will need to find ways to respond to these dynamic requirements. This means transforming legacy architectures into reliable, adaptable assets that contribute to the ability of an enterprise to respond to continuous, fast-paced change.

Consider the electric utility market. Each state used to have one big power company that generated and transmitted energy to homes and businesses. Now, some of these companies handle power generation, while other companies control power distribution. Still other companies are power brokers, buying and selling electricity like a commodity. Consumers can choose who generates their power, but continue to pay bills to a single power distributor.

Many providers have diversified and gone global via joint ventures. The industry is at the early stages of even more changes as new power sources linked to nano technology, hydrogen cells, and other options emerge over the next 20 years. Yet many of these companies still manage numerous functions using the same old systems they created when the utility industry was still a highly regulated, monolithic industry.

Organizations attempting to meet these challenges will quickly discover that legacy systems are the random element in efforts to achieve business agility. In other words, for a business to be agile, its information systems must be adaptable and malleable. Most legacy systems are not adaptable and malleable.

Newer systems, on the other hand, offer more flexibility to an enterprise. If an organization were to create a new company from scratch, management could acquire or build new applications that would be highly integrated and readily adaptable to ongoing change. IT would, in fact, embrace change as opposed to avoiding it. Bridging the chasm between inflexible legacy systems and the near-term need of businesses to be more agile is a challenge that must be met with a multiphased strategy.

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