Operating in highly turbulent environments, organizations today are faced with the need to continually adjust their infrastructure and strategies in order to remain competitive. Globalization and continual technological evolution are the main drivers of this turbulence (Dove, 1999b). To adapt at the same pace as their changing environment, organizations have to be agile. Loosely defined, an agile enterprise is one that is characterized by change proficiency. Change profi- ciency is the defining characteristic of agility and denotes the competency in which an adaptive transformation occurs (Dove, Benson, & Hartman, 1996). In a more detailed definition, an agile enterprise is one that is characterized as a fast moving, adaptable, and robust business, which is capable of rapid adaptation in response to unexpected and unpredicted changes and events, market opportunities, and customer requirements (Henbury, 1996). According to Dove (1999b), agility is very much related to the ability to manage and apply knowledge effectively. Dove (1999b) felicitously associates agility with cats. A cat is both physically adept at movement and also mentally adept at choosing useful movement appropriate for the situation. If a cat has merely the ability to move quickly but moves inappropriately and to no gain (e.g., a cat on a hot tin roof), it might be called spastic or confused but never agile. On the other hand, a cat that knows what should be done but finds itself unable to move (e.g., a cat that’s got itself up a tree), might be called catatonic, confused, or paralyzed but never agile. This example implies that agility cannot be easily attained. It requires knowledge, experience, and skill. Enterprise agility depends on many factors such as personnel capabilities, information technology (IT) infrastructure, business strategy, and so forth. When an enterprise is agile, all its constituents are agile and vice versa. This article focuses particularly on IT infrastructure. It defines agility in IT infrastructure and explains how it contributes to enterprise sensing and response agility. Sensing agility is defined as a firm’s ability to rapidly discover and interpret the market opportunities through its information systems, and it concerns not only an ability to distinguish information from noise quickly, but also to transform apparent noise into meaning faster (Haeckel, 1999). Response agility relates to the organizational capability to quickly transform knowledge into action in response to the environmental signals (Haeckel, 1999).
The term agility has over a decade of use in manufacturing practices, where it has been defined as a principle competitive issue (Kidd, 1994; Dove, 1994a; Goldman, Roger, & Kenneth, 1995). Dove (1999a, 2005) has introduced the principles for agile systems at an abstract level so that they can be interpreted either from a business or a technical perspective. The term system is used to characterize a group of interacting modules sharing a common framework and serving a common purpose. At the business level, modules represent groups of people while at the technical level correspond to software components or machines. These principles are summarized in Figure 1.
Agile design principles (Source: Dove, 1999a)
Dove (1995) has also defined four agility metrics, namely time, cost, robustness, and scope. The first concerns the time required to complete a transformation. The second defines the cost regarding the transformation implementation. Robustness measures the strength and quality of the change process. Scope indicates how much latitude for change can be accommodated. Kidd (1994) has additionally defined a fifth agility metric which is the frequency of change.
Key Terms in this Chapter
IT Infrastructure: The enabling foundation of shared information technology capabilities upon which business depends.
Executable Business Process: A kind of enterprise business process, whose life cycle is controlled by a Business Process Engine.
Response Agility: The organizational capability to quickly transform knowledge into action in response to the environmental signals.
Agility: Efficient and effective response to planned as well as unanticipated change.
Agile IT Infrastructure: A highly automated, integrated and flexible IT infrastructure which enables efficient and effective response to planned, as well as unanticipated change.
Agile Enterprise: A fast moving, adaptable and robust business, which is capable of rapid adaptation in response to unexpected and unpredicted changes and events, market opportunities and customer requirements.
Sensing Agility: A firm’s ability to rapidly discover and interpret the market opportunities through its information systems.
System: A group of interacting modules sharing a common framework and serving a common purpose.