IT directors and chief information officers need to develop IT strategies that help businesses to operate flexibly, which allows them to adapt quickly to ever-changing market forces.
The role of IT has traditionally been to define standards for technology and processes as part of an overall IT strategy. This strategy is often called an enterprise architecture. However, analyst Gartner has warned that such architectures are unable to cope with the dynamic nature of businesses. Rather than define what IT products to standardise on, Gartner recommends IT departments focus on defining formats and protocols.
During the Enterprise Architecture 2008 summit this week in London, Gartner distinguished analyst Nick Gall urged delegates to look at real world successes of flexible systems such as Swift, the banking exchange network, Salesforce.com and the UK's NHS Connecting for Health programme. He said such system have succeeded because of their inherent flexibility.
Swift connects 8300 banks in 203 countries using a small set of standards for inter-bank communications. Salesforce.com's Force platform defines just 17 application programming interfaces, yet the product can be adapted to any enterprise application area. The NHS's electronic prescription service defines a handful of IT protocols that enables GPs and pharmacies to exchange patients' prescriptions.
The benefit of these systems is that they do not specify IT products, just a small number of formats required to comply with a business process. "The GP and pharmacist can run their business any way they want as long as their software is complaint with the e-prescriptions standard," Gall said.