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Technology, IT and business in the lands of apps, gaps and equilibrium

Take a step back and consider the fundamental assumptions behind IT and it become easy to see IT’s current challenges and future failures. One of those assumptions is the relationship between IT functionality and business capability. Understanding the context behind that relationship and its implications is crucial to leading IT in the future. The figure below illustrates this and helps determine if your IT organization lives in the land of ‘gaps’ or ‘apps’.

Consider IT functionality and how it grows over time and with investment. IT capability is the green line line in the figure below. Now look at it in relationship to demands for business capability, which is the blue line.

The interaction between these lines identifies one of three conditions each with its own unique set of considerations.
  • Gaps – where IT functionality lags business capability,
  • Equilibrium – where the two meet, and
  • Apps where IT functionality leads business capability.
Success in each of these situations involves different rules, styles and approaches for success. Applying the rules of one situation to another is a recipe for at best a misunderstanding and too often failure in IT and the business.

Which land do you live in?

Gaps, Apps or Equilibrium; these are new questions for both IT and the organization. It is a question that needs to be asked, answered and incorporated into strategies and plans. Why? Because the rules, values and success in each of these conditions is markedly different and much of the ‘issues’ related to IT can be traced back to living by the right rules, but in the wrong country.

The figure below summarizes the differences between gaps and apps. These will be discussed in more detail in subsequent posts, as understanding the fundamental differences between each is essential to both re-imagine IT and have technology play a role in amplifying the enterprise.

IT grew up in the Land of Gaps with closing gaps forming the fundamental basis for IT strategy, funding, management, development and value tools and techniques. IT demand cannot exceed IT supply without a gap. The fundamental unit of IT – the requirement – assumes the existence of a gap. IT’s posture and position in the organization requires the existence of gaps as a justification for control, co-dependence and closed architectures.

Businesses and IT are facing a world of Apps, where the supply of technology vastly exceeds business demand or IT’s capacity to implement, integrate and operate. The world of apps is a world of technology, as opposed to a world of gaps dominated by internal IT. This situation is relatively new, starting in about 2009 with the large-scale availability of cloud, mobile and other lightweight technologies.

Are we Living in the Land of the Lost?

It is important that business and IT leaders understand these three conditions and the different ‘laws’ of each land. Each is different, even when we want to think they are similar. As Bill Murray character John Winger said in the 1981 movie Stripes:

John Winger (Bill Murray): C’mon, it’s Czechoslovakia. We zip in, we pick ‘em up, we zip right out again. We’re not going to Moscow. It’s Czechoslovakia. It’s like going into Wisconsin.

Russell Ziskey (Howard Ramis): Well I got the shit kicked out of me in Wisconsin once. Forget it!

Everyone loses when business and IT bring the wrong rules to the game. The result is frustration, demands for IT to prove its business relevance and value, and a qualitatively different type of IT does not matter argument.

The posts this week will talk about what it takes to live in the land of Gaps, Apps and Equilibrium at the organizational level and in specific situations.

What do you think? Where do you or your organization live? Are you headed to Wisconsin, or just trying to take the old rules and apply them to new situations?

Recent columns by Mark McDonald

Mark McDonald is a group vice president and head of research for Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-Author of the The Social Organization: how to use social media to tap the collective genius of your customers and employees. He also writes a blog on the Gartner Blog Network.

The opinions expressed herein or statements made in the above column are solely those of the author, and do not necessarily reflect the views of WTN Media, LLC. WTN accepts no legal liability or responsibility for any claims made or opinions expressed herein.


John responded 3 years ago: #1

Hey, I work in Wisconsin! It's not THAT easy....:)

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