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Technology, IT and Business in the lands of Apps, Gaps and Equilibrium

by Mark P. McDonald  |  April 30, 2012  |  4 Comments

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?


Category: 2012  amplifying-the-enterprise  management  re-imagine-it  strategy  

Tags: 2012-planning  amplify  it-and-business  it-leadership  re-imagine-it  strategy-and-planning  

Mark P. McDonald
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

Thoughts on Technology, IT and Business in the lands of Apps, Gaps and Equilibrium

  1. Pearl Zhu says:

    Hi, Mark, very interesting theory and perspective, I would say, most of organizations today may still live at the land of gap, with the IT maturity level of two (reactive) or three (proactive), though even business enters the era of Equilibrium or reach the land of app, it may not necessarily means higher maturity, as not every application is created equal, equilibrium helps achieve operational excellence, and app land might help fertilize business growth. thanks

  2. Ercan Yilmaz says:

    Mark, thanks for your thought-provoking perspective… It looks like there is an inherent build vs buy dimension in your model with the assumption that build (left side?) will not take advantage of the lightweight technologies. I see many shades of gray between the two extremes you suggest. Also have the urge to question if the business is not innovating fast enough in the land of app. Look forward to subsequent posts to better understand your model. Best.

  3. Vish says:


    This is thought provoking. I agree with Pearl’s comment that many companies or even industries live in the Gap segment with a reactive IT – despite use of heavy technology. My experience is the inability to retire from old systems and forget old business processes.

    Then after considerable legacy gets created there will be a Transformation – which again is an attempt to upgrade and bring to equilibrium the process and technology. Politics takes over at this point and whole system gets killed.

    Interested to see what companies / industries have struck equilibrium and sustain it.

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