Several hundred of us had our brains stretched pretty vigorously last week at InformationWeek's Fall Conference in Tucson, Ariz., as we wrestled with the issues and dynamics involved in mastering the fine art of business agility and its attendant parts of readiness and resilience (see informationweek.com/events/02fall). It's InformationWeek's belief that companies must fully grasp those capabilities -- business agility, widespread resilience, and constant readiness -- to build a truly real-time business, a key new concept we've discussed in depth in the past couple of weeks. We've also made Real-Time Business the central theme of our Spring Conference, which will be held March 2 to 5 in Amelia Island, Fla. -- we hope you can join us (for more, see informationweek.com/events/03spring).
We heard Eli Lilly CIO Roy Dunbar describe a very real-time dialogue in which Lilly's help desk for physicians connected a surgeon in the middle of an angioplasty with another surgeon in another country who'd had experience with the unexpected and dangerous condition the first doctor was encountering. With the patient fully awake on the operating table, the doctors connected by the Lilly knowledge base discussed two scenarios: First, if the surgeon continued with the procedure, the complication could cause the patient to lose the eye that had begun bleeding. Or, if the surgeon stopped the procedure to ensure that the eye wouldn't be lost, the patient could die from the heart disease that required the angioplasty. Their decision? They asked the patient what he wanted, he told them to proceed, and the surgeon completed the angioplasty without the eye being lost.
We heard David Bauer, Merrill Lynch's first VP and chief information, security, and privacy officer, describe the burden of being the big security kid on the collaborative-business team. Bauer said that Merrill has its own sophisticated security policies, plus those required by industry regulations. "We also have a lot of suppliers and partners, and they don't all necessarily have those same types of internal or regulatory standards, and that means we sometimes have to end up helping them" meet an acceptable level of security. Merrill is open to providing such help, Bauer said, "but with so many suppliers, the overall effort sometimes gets diluted from the ideal."
Perhaps the most compelling ideas came from C.K. Prahalad, the celebrated University of Michigan Business School strategy expert, who gave an opening-night keynote called "The Essence Of Agility" (a related piece can be found at optimizemag.com/issue/011/leadership.htm). Emphasizing powerful ongoing themes of power shifting to the customer and the consequent need for businesses to focus on customer experiences, Prahalad said companies need to rethink IT strategies to capitalize on these shifts. A point he stressed was the escalating maintenance expenses of legacy systems. With most IT budgets flat, the growing percentage sucked up by such maintenance means new initiatives and forward-looking projects are being delayed, stunted, or scrapped. All of which, Prahalad said, begs the Big Question: "What's your obligation to keep the future alive?" That's a pretty powerful obligation, isn't it? I'd love to hear your answers -- send them to the address below, and the most powerful will get an InformationWeek polo shirt.