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Living in Gapland

The relationship between IT functionality and business capability sets the context for technology in a business. The prior post “Technology, IT and business in the lands of Apps, Gaps and equilibrium” introduced a way of looking at that that relationship. This post concentrates on the assumptions and fundamentals associated with IT living in the land of gaps or Gapland.

The ‘gap’ is one of IT’s most fundamental and deeply held assumptions. It is the fundamental idea that shapes IT management, solution development, business cases, business value, vendor marketing, etc. Living in Gapland describes a context where IT’s role revolves around creating value through filling the distance between business capability and IT functionality.

Gapland where capability exceeds functionality

Gaps exist were business capability exceeds IT functionality. IT processes, practices and techniques concentrate on identifying gaps. We do this when we solicit requirements, develop business cases, deliver quality solutions and services, all revolve around the existence of a gap with technology’s task to fill in that gap. The figure below highlights this situation.

IT’s value and success rests in solutions that ‘level up’ IT functionality until it meets business demands for capability. Gap closure is the fundamental mental model behind just about every significant IT management practice or paradigm from IT strategy to planning and benefits realization. Here are a few examples of the how IT lives in the land of gaps:
  • IT strategy and the concepts of supply and demand fundamentally revolve around gaps and the assumption that demand will always exceed supply.
  • IT investment funding is based on the potential value of addressing business issues through increased IT functionality that fills in the gap
  • IT’s solution-building rests on gap statements that we call ‘requirements.’
  • IT security, architecture and portfolio management revolve around the need to fill in gaps to realize a complete and comprehensive design.
IT built Gapland for valid reasons, particular when the world was defined by a dearth of IT functionality. The world was all gaps, when IT started more than 50 years ago. IT pioneers faced filling a chasm as they built out both the technology and the disciplines required to create it. Gapland yield value so long you apply something new and unknown (IT) to better-understood business capabilities. Gaps become a convenient short hand for valuing technology.

All is not right in the Gapland.
The pitfalls of living in Gapland

Gaps and the value of closing them provides a foundation for IT’s role, reason for being, management and operational practices. Filling in gaps assumes that IT is a specialist group, one that is uniquely able to address the unique requirements of the business. This is obvious when considering the need for custom solution development and services. Gaps are alive and well in the world of packaged systems and purchased services when you consider the degree of customization and tailoring of supposed market based solutions.

The challenge is that IT leaders subconsciously support living in Gapland as gaps provide a rational for IT control, co-dependence and closed architectures and infrastructures. Vendors support this mentality as well by sowing fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD) in terms of the gap between your company and the market. Falling behind in terms of IT functionality or business capability is one of the deep fears driving IT culture, strategy and value.

Gaps create a less than ideal context for IT as they:
  • Keeps the business and IT focused on fixing the past rather than pursuing the future. It is much easier to reflect on what is wrong rather than to project what needs to be right.
  • Drives the cost and complexity of IT while starving opportunities for reuse and leverage as there are incentives in the business to define unique gaps for each business unit and business situation in the name of competitive differentiation.
  • Reinforces IT’s functional role in the enterprise in ways that narrow IT’s involvement strategy and business success. If IT exists to fill in gaps, then they are a type of captive supplier and we can treat them as such.
  • Absolves IT from generating business results as IT’s role is to build solutions and provide services that meet requirements. IT fills in the potholes, its businesses responsibility to drive the car.
  • Dumbs down IT strategy and plans to a simple exercise of creating to do lists, goals and projects. When your job is to fix what is broken or fill in what is missing, its no wonder few CIOs play a significant role in business strategy.
  • Influences the underlying dynamics in business and IT relationships setting up a context based on the assumption that business has problems and IT is the source of solution. Its hard for the business to get excited about repairing the business. At the same time, its easy for IT to think it knows the business better than the business. Both provide a solid foundation for a sustaining a problematic relationship.
The influence of these gaps did not really matter so long as the captive IT organization was the only game in town or IT controlled the core technology assets, architectures, operations and resources. However, the longer IT plays a role of ‘gap filler’, the more they open themselves to disruption as the business seeks to live in the world of apps – where business capability lags market available IT capability.

Gaps will continue to exist in IT and the business. They are the basis for a portion of IT investment, activity and value. But they are no longer the only basis for technology-based functionality.

IT grew up in Gapland. IT has 50 years of living there. Its where IT grew up, matured and still has their primary residence. But increasingly it is time to move on as technical, business and management innovation is redefining the globe. Consumerization, lightweight technologies, technology savvy executives and other factors are fencing off Gapland. CIOs and IT leaders face disruption and eventual eviction from the business if they continue to think that there is only one way to create value.

Next stop – Appland

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.

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