In our Forrsights Business Decision-Makers Survey, Q4 2011, we asked business technology leaders to rate IT’s ability to establish an architecture that can accommodate changes to business strategy. While 45% of IT rated its ability positively, only 30% of business respondents did. Clearly, both think there is room for improvement, but business is more concerned about it.

So are we agile? Only 21% of enterprise architects in our September 2011 Global State Of Enterprise Architecture Online Survey reported being even modestly agile, so I think we all know the answer.

What do we do about it? Continue to focus on technology standardization and cost reduction? Give up on that and focus on tactical business needs? Gridlock in the middle because we can’t make the business case to invest in agility? This is the struggle EA organizations face today.

To act with agility, firms must create a foundation for it, and three barriers can get in the way:

  • Brittle processes and legacy systems. We all know it this one; the current state mess of processes that cannot adapt to change and legacy systems where everything is connected to everything else, so even the smallest changes have broad impacts. Techniques to overcome this barrier include partitioning the problem into digestible pieces to show incremental progress and short-term payoff.
  • Victim mentality. Frequently when I talk to IT personnel, I hear, “The business doesn’t know what it wants,” or “The business doesn’t understand what it takes to build solutions.” The story is the same when I talk to the business: “IT is too slow. I don’t understand why they take so long”; or “I don’t deal with IT if I don’t have to.” People get too busy pointing fingers to act quickly, or too focused on their own pain to address it organizationally. Frequently this is coupled with a feeling of accountability without visibility or authority. Techniques to overcome this barrier include developing joint accountability and simple shared principles that align stakeholders.
  • The quest for bulletproof solutions. As enterprise architects, we are paid to create enterprise solutions that we design to have all kinds of qualities, such as recoverability, robustness, etc. Often the driving quality requirement is agility, yet we only know one trick — make it bulletproof. Frequently this is caused by an aversion to risk and conversation about failure avoidance rather than risk and reward. Overcoming this barrier requires techniques for managing risk, including use of architecture zones and empowering decision rights and accountability to promote better risk-taking.

We think each of these offers a unique opportunity for IT to become more agile and to innovative by recognizing why the barriers exists and acting now to begin overcoming them. What do you think? Have you done something that has been effective at addressing one of these barriers? Do other barriers exist? Let’s start a conversation here, then continue it as Khalid Kark and I present a keynote on the topic at the 2012 CIO/EA Forum in Las Vegas on May 3 and 4, and in Paris on June 19 and 20. As part of our presentation, we will provide examples of companies that have made progress against these barriers and give you more of our own recommendations.