For IT, AO is the Way to Go

While companies of all sizes struggle to make sense of and effectively manage all types of IT issues from integration to outsourcing, the folks at MetaGroup have boiled down most of the major IT issues of the day into one neat package and termed it the “adaptive organization.”

What is the adaptive organization (AO)? Well, according to Ford Motor Co.’s Jeremy Seligman, presenting at MetaGroup’s 2004 METAmorphasis conference in San Diego on Tuesday, it’s all about the fine line between chaos and order. Lean too far in either direction and your IT organization will either fly off into space or stagnate and die. Fail to adopt and adapt lessons from either camp and your company’s very future may be at stake as other, more nimble corporations, pass you by.

Seligman, manager of IT Competency and Learning, said Ford is driving to find this middle ground in order to be the company whose tail-lights rivals watch fade into the distance. But like all companies, Ford is only part way there. AO is a journey not a destination since new technologies, new business challenges, new opportunities continually present themselves.

AO is all about engineering your IT organization to enable quick reaction to rapidly changing business conditions and, therefore, as conditions change so will your approach to AO. AO is simply the “table stakes” today to be in the game called business at all, said Seligman.

“There is no single product (or service) that is adaptive,” agreed David Cearley, Meta’s senior vice president of Research & Product Management, during the keynote address kicking off the three-day event.

This is because an AO is more than technology or the sum of its parts. It is a mindset that permeates the entire business from IT to the boardroom, said Karen Rubenstrunk, Meta’s executive vice president and director and Clearley’s co-presenter. IT simply enables the organization to be adaptive and the organization, for its part, must work with IT to make this happen.

“Adaptive is not a technology,” she said. “Adaptiveness is not about continually adding something new. Governance and architecture, they go hand in hand.”

Most everything in business and IT falls under AO umbrella: from your choice of outsourcing partners to the applications you buy to the platforms those apps run on to the people that manage them, and everything in between.

That is why becoming an AO is a journey fraught with pitfalls and dangers: make the wrong bet on a technology without first assessing its global impact on the business’s ability to adapt or compete, and you could hamper future opportunities not to mention waste a lot of money in the process.

Also, AO is not a cheap ticket. This point resounded throughout the room more than once. AO is going to cost you since it will require a no-holds-barred comparison of your current infrastructure against where you want to go as a company. That will take a lot of effort and investment not only in terms of dollars but time, thought and sweat.

Most companies have already begun this journey; knowingly or unknowingly. The IT industry with standards, Web services, XML and a vast array of other new (and old) technologies and process management methodologies is already ushering in an age where technology is no longer about technology but about business and all that entails. AO may simply be one of the first serious attempts to put it all into perspective.