Alvin Toffler first predicted that the rate of technological change and progress was accelerating faster than people are ready for, or can handle, in his 1970 bestseller, Future Shock. Future shock, he argues, causes disorientation, not only for those caught up in it, but also a sort of paralysis for those confronted with too many choices. In a worst-case scenario, it means alienation and breakdown to social order as a result of information overload.
THE RATE OF CHANGE IS STAGGERING
His predictions were amazingly accurate for the time. Fast forward to 2015 and we are in an era where we can barely keep up with the constant technological changes we’re faced with on a daily basis. Not only is the laptop or phone you buy today practically out of date by the time you get it home, but we are bombarded with social media, e-mail, and text messages delivering an overwhelming level of information on a daily basis.
Technological change isn’t only affecting our daily lives but our workplaces as well. Organizations find it increasingly difficult to keep up—and it’s not just the IT team, but management too. The advent of the cloud, bring your own device (BYOD), big data, and the Internet of Things has accelerated information overload. This puts intense pressure on lines of business to respond quickly to market drivers, data-driven imperatives, and internal demands.
ORGANIZATIONS FEEL ILL-PREPARED
As a result, organizations are forced to change—whether they are ready or not. According to Toffler, the only way to combat future shock is to constantly adapt. An inability to adapt is likened to a new kind of illiteracy with Toffler explaining “the illiterate of the 21st century are not those who cannot read and write but those who cannot learn, unlearn, and relearn.”
This is scarily similar to what is happening to organizations that are not in a position to handle or adapt to rapid change. Just 52 percent of organizations feel they are equipped to deal with the convergence of new technologies, and 27 percent say they are ill-prepared, according to research. Prepared or not, the tide of convergence is coming whether companies like it or not. To survive, companies must learn to architect themselves in the moment.
AGILE CAN HELP
Agile software development has emerged as one of the ways IT developers have adapted to the requirements of constant change. Characterized by iterative, incremental, and rapid development that evolves through collaboration, products go to market quickly. They are then tested and adapted accordingly with upgrades on a constant loop.
An agile approach allows for individuals and interactions to take precedence over processes and tools, moving from negotiation to collaboration, and for teams to respond to change rather than stick to rigid plans. Ultimately, it allows teams to shift their focus away from internal concerns to prioritize the needs of the customer.
Much can be learned from an agile approach. Below is a list of a few abstracts from the twelve principals of Agile Development—applied to enterprise architecture with deletions in parenthesis and additions in italics:
- Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer through early and continuous delivery of (valuable software) valuable architecture guidance to the enterprise.
- Welcome changing requirements, even late in development. Agile processes change for the customer’s competitive advantage.
- Business people and (developers) architects must work together (daily) throughout the project.
- Simplicity—the art of maximizing the amount of work not done—is essential.
- The best architectures, requirements, and designs emerge from self-organizing teams.
- At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
CHANGE REQUIRES A CULTURE SHIFT
As Toffler predicted, the rate of business change is moving so fast that if you take too much time to do anything, the organization is likely to lose out. Business schools have even taken a page from IT by teaching the principles of agile development to graduate students. As Toffler noted, “If you don’t have a strategy, you’re part of someone else’s strategy.”
To combat future shock, adaptability must be at the core of every organization’s strategy. Those who want to thrive will use it more quickly, but this requires a significant culture shift for many companies. Business and IT must work together to facilitate changes that will help both parties.
Enterprise architects and IT leaders can help lead the charge for change by helping the C-suite understand how to apply agile principles. Architecting things as you go can be difficult—most of us aren’t used to that level of flexibility. But agility does not preclude planning or forethought—rather, it is part of the process and action plan rather than a precursor to action. While many organizations are in for a large dose of future shock, adaptation and business transformation is necessary if they don’t want to be left behind.