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The IT game is a stalemate, time to define a new Technology Game

by Mark P. McDonald  |  February 8, 2013  |  6 Comments

CIOs and IT leaders are masters of  the IT game. Executives play the IT game so long as it was the only game in town and it suited their needs.  If you want to control IT cost, quality, services, enablement and control, then you are playing an IT game that worked for more than 30 years.   But the IT game is not a classic game like Monopoly or Clue.  It cannot pass  the test of time.

  • It is time to change the IT game.
  • It is time to define a new game.
  • It is time to define a Technology game.

The current IT game is a stalemate characterized by flat budgets, fights over shadow IT, concerns over control all based on a zero sum assumption that business wins require IT to lose. Consider the growth of business-initiated technologies, shadow IT, and consumerization. All represent alternative games to the IT status quo.  Right now those activities and actions indicate demand for a new game.  So perhaps it is up to the CIO to give them exactly that a new game.This post outlines some thoughts on the shape of the technology game and your comments are welcome and necessary to define the future.


Defining a New Technology Game

Defining a game, per Jane McGonigal and others, requires finding new goals, rules, feedback systems and participation.   Using this framework we can start to describe the dynamics of the technology game.

Defining a game means establishing a new context, goals, rules, feedback system and participation.  These factors, shown in the graphic below, give shape and support people lending their time, talent, information and inspiration to the game.  Most games have deterministic rules that drive to a simple outcome — getting around the board, doing the best job at playing a role, making good decisions or getting the most.  I believe a realistic “Technology Game” has to do more and therefore we need to look at all of the factors and their relationships.



What is the context for the technology game?

Every game has a subject or metaphor behind it.  The subject of the Technology Game – admittedly it needs a new name – is the incorporation of technology in an enterprise.  This is a little narrow in the sense that technology is also part of a number of other things, but we need a focus the discussion and since the IT game was enterprise centric lets keep the enterprise at the heart of the technology game – for now.

What are the goals of the technology game?

Every game has goals that define its purpose or the reason for people want to play.  In a business context, goals revolve around what defines success and the rational for people engaging in the game.  The goals of a technology game, one focused on incorporating technology in an enterprise could be:

  • Using technology to achieve enterprise strategic objectives
  • Using technology to support growth
  • Using technology to transform the customer experience
  • Using technology to create stakeholder and shareholder value

These are all rather pedestrian, but important in the context of an enterprise’s application of technology.   What is important is that these goals are externally focused rather than in the IT game, which is dominated by internal concerns and competition.

If I were to summarize these goals and present a challenge, I would like to suggest that the goal of the future “Technology Game” is

“Raising human ability and creating comprehensive value.”

This goal is broad and difficult to envision exactly how to achieve it.  Human ability refers to a focus on people, their potential, their energy, experience and capacity to contribute and benefit from that contribution.  Human ability is something that has been squeezed out of the IT game, where people are called users and the user experience is governed by getting people to do what the system needs them to do.  As one CIO put it “I am a human, nothing human should be foreign to me” but too often it is.  That must be part of the goals for any future technology game.  Too often it is not part of the IT game.

Human ability and comprehensive value are goals worth pursuing and learning more about, just like Monopoly teaches about managing money or Clue teaches deductive reasoning.  Prior posts discuss the notion of comprehensive value and its something that future technologies must enable to build a broadly sustainable and positive society.

What do you think?

This is the first of a series of posts that look to discuss the different aspects of a “Technology Game” that replaces the current “IT Game” played by most enterprises.  That “IT Game” with its focus on cost, quality, services and control is losing its relevance, falling into stalemate in the face of dynamic business demands and digital technology.

It is time for a new game as the current IT game is becoming a little like tic-tack-toe where experienced players realize that the game ends in a stalemate.  Lets define this game together and in the process establish the context, goals, rules, feedback and participation required for success in the coming digital decade.

More to come and thanks for your contribution.


Category: 2013  digital-edge  digitalization  it-epic-journey  re-imagine-it  

Tags: it-and-business  it-leadership  it-management  it-strategy  technology-game  technology-leadership  

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program.

Thoughts on The IT game is a stalemate, time to define a new Technology Game

  1. Great post! “Raising human ability and creating comprehensive value.” is spot on as the goal!

    One way to get there is to balance the desire/need for top-down process control with horizontal collaboration. That’s where innovation comes from. Process control is all about consistency, predictability, and efficiency NOT innovation. Innovation is what creates value. Collaboration requires more people-centric design in IT approaches/tools.

  2. Terry Bennett says:

    Many years ago I learned that technology should be used to increase revenue, decrease costs, & differentiate our company from its competition. These three objectives line up fairly well with the goals you mentined for the technology game.

    Sadly it seems that IT has too often been used primarily as a cost-cutting mechanism. This has contributed to (perhaps even driven) an internal focus. With movements like the consumerization of IT, mobile technologies, cloud computing, etc, the cry that IT is not living up to its potential is growing at a maddening pace.

    The question is: what caused the “IT game” (as you call it) to fail? Was it that we in IT have neglected to build solid relationships with our executive counterparts? Is it that we have become too focused on the technology and not the business? Is it that we have not done a good job in truly envisioning & communicating how technology can be a differentiator? Is it because competition & the environment focused our companies (& in turn, IT) so much on cost-cutting that there was not the budget, time, nor energy to look beyond that? Or is it something else altogether?

    It seems that in order to change the game, each company – & its IT department- must do some self-examination and identify why the “IT game” has not been as successful as they need it to be. The CIO has the opportunity to take the lead in this.

    What do you think?

  3. Mark P. McDonald says:


    Thanks for your thoughtful response and I think that some of the answers to your question regarding what caused the IT game to fail is that it became a game about information technology defined increasingly along organizational and budget lines rather than a game about connecting business with technology.

    The IT game is a stalemate because it has become a game with an internal, organizational and divisive focus — pitting business against IT, etc. That is why I believe we need a new game and looking for new goals for that game.

    There have been numerous attempts to reform the IT game, including many of the prescriptions you mention in your post. The IT TQM, Agile, Emotional Intelligence, Governance, Service Management, Alignment, relationship management, Software Factories, IT as a business, among others have all sought to repair the IT game. If you look at these initiatives they largely reflect an internal focus and therefore I would suggest that further examination to fix the old game is more likely to lead to similar conclusions and results.

    It is time to recognize that its time to put away a game that leads to stalemate. The same way that we no longer play tic-tac-toe, except with someone who has never played the game, we should move on and define a game for the future rather than trying to repair the past. That does not mean we should not learn from the past, but given our prior efforts to reform IT, we probably know enough to move ahead.

    This is a contentious issue and I really do appreciate your comments and welcome your thoughts on this response.



  4. […] The IT game is a stalemate, time to define a new Technology Game […]

  5. Terry Bennett says:


    It doesn’t appear that we are differing much. Both of us are saying that the divide between IT and “the business” needs to be eliminated. Instead of independent silos pitted against one another, everyone needs to work together to move the company forward in the same direction.

    The question becomes — how do we accomplish that? What concrete, definable steps must be taken?

    Here are a few initial thoughts:

    – Ensure that everyone in the company has a solid understanding of its industry, its competition, its goals, and the associated measurements. Encourage everyone to watch (& discuss) the industry & the competition. Help each individual understand how he is contributing to the company. Hold regular update meetings.

    – Encourage staff to keep abreast of changes in technology. In addition, urge them to watch how other industries are using current technologies. Hold regular discussions with various people in the company to spread this information. Talk about how you might be able to apply this.

    – Divide the IT budget into two totally separate pieces — one for “keeping the lights on” and one for “moving the company forward”. Help everyone realize that these budgets must be managed in different ways. We must work to minimize the “keeping the lights on” budget and also make it transparent. On “moving the company forward”, all must work together to ensure that we are spending on the right things and that we achieve the anticipated return.

    Obviously there is much more to this than can be reasonably included in this response. It’s about relationships & moving forward together.

    What do you think? Do steps like these make sense?

  6. […] The IT game is a stalemate, time to define a new Technology Game […]

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