Creating Business Agility by Design.

Agile engineering practices are really good for ensuring that IT development priorities are responsive to business requirements, but they don’t necessarily deliver an agile business.

I define ‘business agility’ as ‘the ability to quickly harness what you already have to make the most of an emerging business opportunity‘.

Let’s explore that sentiment a little. How easy is it for your business to ‘harness what you already have’?

The most common problem that I see when I’m working with clients is brittle applications, applications that can’t be easily accessed, re-purposed or reused to respond to changing business demands. For example: inaccessible and intransigent fulfilment processes locked inside big ERP systems that prevent lucrative new channels from being offered to customers, or payment processes that don’t meet compliance targets but can’t be removed or replaced without breaking something important.

No matter how modern the system, or how many ‘best practices’ are used in its development, reuse often remains stubbornly elusive. Sadly agile project management practices can’t come to the rescue either. Agile development practices generally have no effect on the long-term reusability of an application one way or the other.

‘Business Agility’ = ‘Easy Reusability’

In the current climate, reuse is probably the most important non-functional requirement that you could possibly express. However, there are many competing techniques for achieving reuse in software systems so the key is to understand which techniques can really help you and which should be avoided.

I’d argue that ‘Easy Reusability’ is the result of careful interface design coupled with simple accessibility. The techniques that you use to build your software systems should reflect these goals.

Interface design should try to take into account the broadest requirements possible, with ‘future‘ use-cases given appropriate levels of consideration. Likewise, simple accessibility (or interoperability) can be achieved by choosing interface standards that will allow for easy access from a suitably wide variety of consumers.

SOA can provide a good solution.

In my experience, Service Oriented Architecture (SOA) is a good paradigm for delivering both easy reuse and business agility. What’s more, when you combine SOA with modelling techniques that encourage the identification of future reuse opportunities you can create a very powerful environment for delivering some serious business agility.

Contact me to find out more.

Ben Wilcock is a SOA Consultant working for SOA Growers Limited in the UK.

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