Continuous Business Transformation: At the Center of ZapThink 2020

It was the ancient Greek Pre-Socratic philosopher Heraclitus who famously said “you cannot step twice into the same river,” indicating that change itself is the central principle of the universe. For those of us whose universe is the enterprise, change is also the central principle of our organizations. The forces of change impacting the business are the underlying motivations for SOA, and business change is the theme of our Licensed ZapThink Architect course. Business agility, after all, means responding to change and leveraging change for competitive advantage. If it weren’t for the constant force of change, all the hard work that goes into building an agile architecture wouldn’t be worth the time and effort.

Even though the permanence of change drives how we run our organizations, it nevertheless goes against our human nature. People prefer stability. We innately feel that change is temporary, that the point to change is to reach the end of it, when we can finally settle down and enjoy the new state of affairs that results when the change is finally complete. Unfortunately, this new state of affairs is largely an illusion, especially when we’re talking about the large organizations we call enterprises. Simply put, there is no such thing as an end state, some kind of nirvana where whatever was changing has finished its transformation.

The Pervasiveness of the End State Illusion

We find the mistaken belief that there is a stable end state both in business and IT, and perhaps most surprisingly, in the practice of Enterprise Architecture (EA) In each of these realms, if you are faced with a challenge, you may analyze your “as-is” state and your “to-be” state, in order to come up with a plan to move from “as-is” to “to-be.” In fact, this end state illusion is core to the definition of EA, according to the EACOE:

Enterprise Architecture is explicitly describing an organization through a set of independent, non-redundant artifacts, defining how these artifacts interrelate with each other, and developing a set of prioritized, aligned initiatives and road maps to understand the organization, communicate this understanding to stakeholders, and move the organization forward to its desired state.

But if business change is constant, there is no desired state, and thus this definition is inherently flawed. What, then, is the proper goal for EA? Essentially, EA should move the organization to greater levels of business agility, where “being agile” is not an end state per se, but rather allows for the fact that change is constant, and it is the role of EA to help organizations better deal with that fact, and use it to their advantage.

The “Goal” of Continuous Business Transformation

So while the traditional definition of EA involves transformation to a desired state, continuous business transformation forms the core of the ZapThink 2020 vision. You can think of continuous business transformation as a goal, but the word “goal” connotes an end state, so the word is misleading. Instead, we are looking to move from the current state of inflexibility to an environment where the business is in a continual state of reinvention, responding to forces of change as efficiently as possible, and also introducing change in the form of innovation in order to achieve ongoing strategic advantage.

Continuous business transformation drives the entire ZapThink 2020 vision, including each of the five Supertrends. In fact, the entire point of ZapThink 2020 is to help organizations deal with change more intelligently. There’s no question that change is pervasive. What remains to be determined is how well organizations can ride the wave.

The ZapThink Take

By saying there’s no end state we don’t mean to imply that there is no best practice approach to continuous business transformation. On the contrary, many executives will continue to struggle with change, but there will be a few who reinvent EA as a best practice enabler of agility, and thus successfully transform their organizations.

But even the word “transformation” presents issues, as we’re talking about two levels of transformation. The transition from “as-is” to “to-be,” from the screwed up state we’re in now to the fixed, nirvana state of the future is the false transformation we are revealing as specious. Instead, ZapThink is helping organizations transform from a traditional goal-focused mode of thinking to a continuous business transformation mode of thinking—a higher level of transformation that leads to true business agility.