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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.

Bimodal IT: Legacy IT and Innovative IT

The first approach: Legacy IT focuses on traditional proprietary applications, functionality and processes delivering largely standardized functionality (think ERP) from legacy vendors (think Oracle). This is the world of large, infrequently updated software packages, managed via deliberate, lengthy manual processes (think ITIL), operated in a largely static infrastructure financed via large capital investment, and often outsourced to a "your mess for less" provider.

The second approach: Innovative IT focuses on individualized functionality specific to the enterprise, commonly self-assembled from open source software (think Mongo) and products from early stage vendors (think Urban Airship). Change is frequent and managed via automated processes (think DevOps) and operated in dynamic, elastic infrastructures priced by resource use in an environment managed by a cloud computing provider (think Amazon Web Services).

Bimodal IT: Two Completely Different Worldviews

In a presentation by Gartner analyst Lydia Leong I attended at the AWS Reinvent conference, she walked through the characteristics of bimodal IT. The message I took away was that these are two completely different ways of looking at the world and, even if they live in the same organization, they are as different as chalk and cheese. Crucially, the two visions of how IT operates and what it needs to deliver are so different that the solutions of one group are considered completely inadequate by the other. Leong gave the example of private clouds -- built by traditional IT, they are viewed as uninteresting by innovative IT and typically ignored in favor of public solutions.

The mutual incomprehension of these two worldviews was on display in a Twitter exchange I had while attending Reinvent. Perusing the agenda, I noted that Coca-Cola was speaking at two sessions, and so tweeted (rather snarkily, I must admit) "Coca-Cola has two sessions at Reinvent. More evidence enterprises won't use AWS." I wrote this tweet (you can see it quoted in the middle tweet in Figure 2) because of the very common assertion I hear that "enterprises don't/won't use AWS," and this seemed very clear evidence of what I see all the time -- mainstream enterprises are adopting AWS and its "commodity" counterparts Azure and Google.

However, almost immediately, worldview one was displayed by a person (blurred in the image to avoid personalizing this discussion) who responded "What is Coke doing? Actually 'enterprise' type stuff, or basically more external facing?" The exchange continued (see Figure 3), with me responding that "external facing" is enterprise IT, and the other person asserting that enterprise IT is when "back office is there" and that, even if some companies are doing enterprise IT in the cloud, it's not "any company of size."


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