MIS Quarterly Executive


It is clear that systems agility (i.e., having a responsive IT infrastructure that can be changed quickly to meet changing business needs) has become a critical component of organizational agility. However, skeptics continue to suggest that, despite the benefits enterprise system packages provide, they are constraining choices for firms faced with agility challenges. The reason for this skepticism is that the tight integration between different parts of the business that enables many enterprise systems’ benefits also increases the systems’ complexity, and this increased complexity, say the skeptics, increases the difficulty of changing systems when business needs change.

These persistent concerns motivated us to conduct a series of interviews with business and IT managers in 15 firms to identify how they addressed, in total, 57 different business agility challenges. Our analysis suggests that when the challenges involved an enterprise system, firms were able to address a high percentage of their challenges with four options that avoid the difficulties associated with changing the complex core system: capabilities already built-in to the package but not previously used, leveraging globally consistent integrated data already available, using “add-on” systems available on the market that easily interfaced with the existing enterprise system, and vendor provided “patches” that automatically updated the code. These findings have important implications for organizations with and without enterprise system architectures.