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Agility seen as the key to IT success

New, more fluid software that can be broken down into smaller pieces through service-oriented architecture will make IT more agile and responsive, according to experts at Gartner's ITxpo.

ORLANDO, FLA.-- IT organizations should get ready for a new generation of software that will allow them to become more agile and responsive to the ever-changing business needs of the future, according to experts.

Speaking during the opening keynote address Monday at the Gartner Symposium ITxpo, Gartner analysts said the current generation of software is too rigid, and oftentimes is a hindrance to business growth, rather than an enabler of that growth.

To achieve greater agility going forward, software will become more fluid and will be able to adapt to those changing business needs without constant redesign, analysts with the Stamford, Conn.-based company said.

"Software needs to break away from transaction and rigid dialog steps and become what we think of as a set of guardrails, rules that cover a playing field for much freer interaction of people systems and events," said Jeff Comport, vice president and distinguished Gartner analyst, who was a keynote speaker.

Comport said one of the keys to achieving agility will be service-oriented architecture (SOA), which essentially allows software to be broken down into smaller pieces that are easier to change. SOA will be especially useful in the current climate of increased IT outsourcing, where it is often necessary to combine software that comes from outside sources with applications that were created in-house.

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Greater competition, moderate IT growth driving the need for agility

Gartner predicts that worldwide end user spending on IT products and services will increase by a moderate 5% over the next year.

While that growth will generally be good for business, it will also be tempered by the fact that companies based in developed countries are facing greater challenges than they have in the past. Those challenges include the emergences of world class competitors from developing countries, the uncertainty of world events and the high price of oil.

"Against this background, business leaders need to find new ways to maximize the effectiveness of their operation," said Peter Sondergaard, head of research, technical and services at Gartner. "We, as IT professionals, will need to make greater contributions to the corporate goals of profits of revenue and of cash flow."

To help companies meet these business goals, IT departments will need to shift their focus from technology procurement to business processes. This means that they must understand the business processes, model them and map them to their company's IT applications and infrastructure.

"Your IT plans and budgets have to be set within an understanding of the wider business climate," Sondergaard said. "Success is going to come from innovation, but innovation has to be linked to the reality of the business demands."

End users will play a greater role

Conference attendee Ed Pisula, director of corporate IT for Respironics Inc., a manufacturer of respiratory devices based in Murrysville, Pa., said his company has recently been struggling to find ways to become more agile.

Pisula said achieving greater agility is "a real problem" in the industry, and that part of the solution may include IT departments shifting into more of an advisory role. He said end users will also play a greater role in meeting their technology needs.

"Without a doubt, the user community has gotten more educated in terms of technology and how to apply it to their business problems," Pisula said. "I think they'll get wound into the whole equation tighter than they have in the past, and [IT will] be brought in as technical advisers."

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