It’s time to update our venerable Business-IT Maturity curve – this is a BIG DEAL! (Well, at least it is to some of us!)
For the last 10 years or so I have been drawing a simplified version of the Business-IT Maturity curve as a single ‘S’ curve, or learning curve. I typically talk about three major stages, or “levels” on this curve – Level 1 is focused on the basics, metaphorically referred to as “keeping the lights on and the trains running.” Level 2 focuses on business processes and the automation of transactional activities. Level 3 gets into the lofty space of business transformation and innovation. The model differentiates ‘business demand’ (the appetite and ambition of the business for investment in and leverage of information technology) and ‘IT supply’ (the ability of the IT organization to deliver against this demand, and to stimulate higher value demand (i.e., rise above simple ‘order taking’ behavior towards more consultative and partnership behaviors.)
The model has always been a dramatic over-simplification. I make no apologies for that – its simplicity has helped it resonate with senior business executives and has fostered some powerful and crucial dialog between business and IT leadership. It has helped improve business understanding, and elevate demand ambition. But there is so much change going on – both in terms of business demand and IT supply, that it’s time to recognize and consider the implications of a richer construct.
It may be more precise to recognize that the single ‘S’ curve is in reality a series of overlapping curves – i.e., there are discontinuities, as one predominant information technology paradigm reaches maturity and a new one begins to take hold. While most major corporations were going through their ‘childhood’ in terms of Business-IT maturation (i.e., Level 1), the dominant IT paradigm was mainframe computing platform and customer developed applications programs.
In the 1990′s, the paradigm shifted in at least two important ways – with the entry of the Personal Computer in the early 1980′s, leading to Client-Server computing, and with the rise of application packages. Add to this the business process reengineering movement that surfaced in the early 1990′s, and you have a major discontinuity. Some companies ‘milked’ the mainframe/custom application paradigm well into the late 1990′s and beyond, while others jumped on client-server and/or application packages aggressively. In so doing, they entered a new “S” curve. Everything they had learned about back-up, recovery and data integrity, for example, did not fully apply to the new paradigm, and it was often a ‘rocky road’ while these IT shops re-built their IT infrastructures for the new paradigm. It took many shops years to figure out that modifying application packages was detrimental to your health and sanity, or at least, was a quick way to screw up delivery schedules and software budgets!
Today we are somewhere in the throes of another paradigm shift – one that includes a shift from Client-Server to Cloud Computing, and from application packages to Software as a Service (SaaS). Again, some are aggressively jumping on that paradigm. Often, it is companies that have started up as the new paradigm was reaching early feasibility that are the first to jump on. Consider Amazon.com and Google. They weren’t around for the mainframe paradigm, and the client-server platform was already giving way to an Internet-based approach when they started their businesses. In Google’s case, they are an important piece of creating the new computing paradigm, with Google Documents, for example, and widgets that are finding their way into so many computing solutions that are a far cry from Google’s primary businesses.
I will pick this thread up tomorrow, and explore more implication for this refinement to the Business-IT Maturity model.