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Enterprise IT crosses the chasm

Bernard Golden | Nov. 21, 2014
Author Geoffrey Moore's book 'Crossing the Chasm' has been influential in the IT industry for more than two decades now. The theory was a good model for how most enterprise IT shops used to work. However, now enterprise IT is crossing the chasm and heading in the direction towards innovation.

One of the most -- perhaps the most -- influential books in Silicon Valley over the past two decades has been "Crossing the Chasm" by Geoffrey Moore. In it he posits the existence of a technology adoption bell curve (Figure 1) -- starting with innovators, who eagerly grasp new technologies to gain competitive advantage, through to laggards who typically wait for technology to be established as a service, thereby requiring no internal technical expertise.

The catch is that between the technology enthusiast (perhaps 15 percent of the market) and the pragmatist phases (at 85 percent, the vast majority of a market) looms the chasm. The chasm is caused by the fact that, while enthusiast buyers are willing to work with unfinished, unpolished products, pragmatists require vendors to deliver what Moore terms "whole" products -- easy to use, accompanied by training and large service partners, with local company presence for personal interaction -- in other words, convenient to adopt and use. If whole products are not available, new technologies cannot "cross the chasm" and are stranded in a small subset of the overall market for a given technology.

It's difficult to overstate this book's influence in the startup world. Countless discussions within early stage companies have focused on how to cross the chasm -- with enormous pressure on every participant to help figure out how to access the lucrative mainstream IT market. Without a strategy to cross the chasm, an early stage company is doomed to a niche opportunity.

Moreover, Moore's theory was a good model for how most enterprise IT shops worked. They slowly adopted new technologies, typically waiting for a winner to emerge in a given market segment. These organizations, in effect, stood with folded arms, impassive to the entreaties of startups asking them to give their products a try -- patiently waiting for one vendor to be ready to deliver the technology in the "enterprise" form.

Today, however, the crossing the chasm model is breaking down completely -- so much so that enterprise IT itself is crossing the chasm and heading in the direction towards innovation. This behavioral change is massively disruptive to the established order and accounts for much of the confusion and angst we see in the technology industry today. It's no understatement that there is a pitched battle going on for the very definition of enterprise IT, with one side represented by a coalition of incumbent vendors and mid-career IT personnel and the other by startups, open source companies, and IT personnel focused on leveraging new technologies.

Gartner characterizes this state of affairs as "bimodal IT" -- an uneasy melange of two very different approaches to IT.


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