Business-IT maturity as decision-making

Business-IT maturity frameworkJust a thought….

My esteemed colleague Vaughan Merlyn currently is on a quest (under the heading of the BSG Concours project Reaching Level Three) to further develop the already very useful framework of business-IT maturity. This framework (which has been around in many different guises the last 15 years or so) describes three levels of business-IT maturity – a basic one (level one), where the business asks and IT delivers, a more advanced relationship (level two) where IT is seen as a partner by the business, and a very advanced one (level three) where IT provides a platform for innovation to the business.

Lately we have been discussing ways to refine this framework in light of new technologies that have come along, as well as doing case research on companies that have reached level three. One thought that struck me is that there is a lot of similarity between these three levels and Clayton Christensen’s three types of decision-making. In the excellent article Why Hard-nosed Executives Should Care About Management Theory (HBSP), Christensen and Raynor posit three ways of making decisions:

  • The Scientific Method*, which is expensive and slow, since it requires hypothesis formulation and proof. This method is used only on problems that are important and hard.
  • Pattern Recognition, where the decision-maker monitors many variables at the same time and recognizes them as falling into certain patterns. This method works well for most business problems – and is one reason why case-based research and teaching works so well when training managers to handle business problems.
  • Rules-based decisions, when you have boiled down the problem to so few indicators that you can automate the decision-making in the form of measures.

To me it seems that the level one relationship works for problems that are largely rule-based (hence a focus on measures, formal decision-making and benchmarking). The partnership model works for problems that lend themselves to pattern-matching – you need a forum of experienced business and IT executives to discuss the problem and arrive at the solution through associative reasoning. The third level could be seen as a forum for answering those questions – or uses of the technology – that are so new that neither measures nor prior art exists. What is needed is a creative relationship, a theoretical (or, at least, abstracted) shared foundation, and a willingness to commit serious resources to trying to do things that may turn out not be possible.

Viewed this way, the maturity framework becomes a desciption of what kind of conversations the CIO and the CEO has – and what kind of problems the business wants help with, and the IT department can adress. 

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2 thoughts on “Business-IT maturity as decision-making

  1. Vaughan Merlyn

    Espen – you’ve done it again! great insight, and a refined ability to “see patterns” where others only see confusion! I think this is a very useful connection – supported by our earlier research on the role of IT in supporting business experimentation.

  2. Anonymous

    Very interesting, but I don’t know if I understand it correct. It seems to me that a common problem consist of a mismatch between the CIO and the CEO. Is that right?

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