The New Chasm

I believe that readers of my blog are familiar with the chart below. It is the classical “Crossing the chasm” diagram from Geoffrey A. Moore’s book Crossing the Chasm: Marketing and Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers. This book was published back in 1991 and it is still number two on “Twelve Business Books in One Hour for the Busy CEO” list. The main argument that Geoffrey Moore makes here is that the “early adopters” have no ability to influence “early majority” and it leads to a chasm that is very difficult for startups (or any company with disruptive technology) to cross:

Adoption Cycle

This book was written in the days when startups typically sold to electrical engineers (a.k.a. IT) and Brad Burnham described it well in his recent post:

In the old days, electrical engineers focused on getting computers to work not on getting people to engage with the systems built on top of those computers. The folks that built enterprise software were vaguely aware that their systems had to be accessible to the humans that used them but they had a huge advantage. The people who used them did so as part of their job, they were trained to use them and fired if they could not figure them out.

This is why even Wikipedia uses the following example to describe the end-user:

The end-user or consumer may differ from the person who purchases the product. For instance, a zookeeper, the customer, might purchase elephant food for an end-user: the elephant.

But virtually no startup gets funded today if it sells directly to electrical engineers. Innovation happens in the consumer space anyway and so the assumption is that any disruptive technology (social networks, SaaS, web2.0…) gets adopted first by the end-users and then it is picked up by the IT. But here comes the new chasm: low ability of end-users to influence IT:

Reversed Adoption Cycle

This chasm is the new manifestation of the classical “Business-IT” gap but this time is the innovation flow reversed: business leads and IT follows. And this new flow doesn’t make it any easier to cross the new chasm

Comments

  1. I think the new Business-IT chasm also works the other way. IT often buys software applications that end users never actually use. Does anyone really use all the features of those super-copiers that can access a file server, email, and search the web? And budgets still get done in Excel before eventually entering numbers in whatever the budgeting software happens to be.

    I’ve noticed two interesting relationships: 1) The more expensive the software, the greater the likelihood there will be an end user work around and 2) the more expensive and complex the software, the cheaper and simpler the work around will be.

    Relevant article, though I see it’s already in your del.icio.us bookmarks.

    http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/millennials_route_around_it_departments.php

  2. This is a great article. IT at a lot of organizations has become a calcified and completely ineffectual. I have noticed lately that business users don’t care about IT at all and just go around them. Hence the success of Saleforce.com and other cloud providers. Marketing organizations and their IT groups are the ones I am impressed with the most. They turn things around quickly, and outsource everything, even simple things like landing pages. Bravo!

  3. There is an important distinction between business users and business owners at play here though.

    Business users may not have direct influence over IT, but if you’re delivering enough value for the business overall (rather than the individuals working there) you eventually (or by design) engage business owners.

    If you change your picture to show “business owner” instead of “end user”, a gap arguably still exists, but it’s a very different beast, particularly with the current economic pressures.

    The question I think becomes how to relate, leverage and scale the benefits an individual innovator or early adopter brings to their team/business unit. (the gist of Roger’s more recent convergence model I think…)

    Carr was prescient – IT matters less and less.

  4. While I am flattered that you linked to my presentation from 2006 I have to warn you that the books were not in priority order of any sort. I collaborated with Mark Duncan on a article that fleshed out the slide deck, it’s available here:
    http://skmurphy.com/wp-content/uploads/2007/04/Marketing%20Concepts.pdf and the blog post that links to all of the books is here: http://www.skmurphy.com/blog/2006/12/11/12-books-for-the-busy-ceo-tonight-mon-dec-11-2006-sdforum/

    I found your perspective on the gap between end user and IT as the “new chasm” thought provoking.

  5. I agree with Yared. In some cases IT play a RIAA-like role in the organizations: force to use their non-effective point of view (where IT is in the centre) and try to ban all non-internal (aka outsourced) solutions and web services.

    Maybe it’s the relict of past days where IT was defined as a “important part of corporate strategy”. It’s still true – but only when IT manager commits to company vision and not his or her HW/SW playground.

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