The Digital Expectations Divide

4 min readMar 5, 2019

You may have heard of the digital divide. It’s the divide between those that have Internet and computing access and those that do not. The effect is a disparity in opportunities and economic equality for those that have versus those that have not.

Not to equate a serious socioeconomic challenge to the world of well to do corporations, but there exists a growing divide in organizations regarding technology. What we have is a digital expectations divide threatening to derail companies on their transformation journey.

How so? The advance of technology in enterprise organizations is causing a similar “have vs. have not” dynamic. It’s not about access though, but rather perceptions as the recent results from a survey by The Economist Intelligence Unit explains:

The disparity between the views of developers and the C-suite of the application of DevOps and CI/CD is stark. Executives believe they are already equipped with the capabilities needed to execute on digital transformation whereas developers are much less confident.

“Senior executives have heard all about their company’s efforts to digitally transform and adopt new IT practices. What happens if those same executives express exasperation when they’re told that the journey has just begun and there is a need to spend money on CI and DevOps tooling?”

Ironically, developers are more apt to say they apply Agile in their work to a much greater degree than executives believe. Why? Because executives are possibly misunderstanding exactly what Agile is and make the assumption that Agile alone can enable faster product delivery cycles.

It further demonstrates the misunderstanding of what technology brings to the table. There is a belief, especially in conversations with bank executives, that technology is the easy part of transformation. Executives imagine that technology can automagically solve all problems.

Enterprises that have existed for decades unfortunately do not have the flexibility to transform instantly. There is legacy infrastructure and code, processes built around that technology, and people organized to maintain that investment. An organization can neither afford to simply start from scratch, as customers depend on the services that all of the legacy technology, processes, and people support.

At the same time, customers are expecting better digital products and services inspired by modern technologies. For example, fintech startups are slowly “unbundling” banks:

To stay competitive, enterprises are investing in newer technologies and innovation initiatives. This creates friction between the need for agility and speed versus resilience and reliability. Added to this is the challenge of securing both the new and legacy systems from mounting cyberthreats.

The C-suite wants all of this however at a lower cost, better quality, and delivered yesterday. IT then has to interpret mixed signals and balance competing needs of completely opposed strategies. Yet if IT and engineering are the core for future innovation as most CEO’s would state, does treating IT as a cost center enable the best outcomes long-term for the business and ultimately for customers?

Certainly technology teams have some responsibility to bear. Particularly in very large and distributed IT organizations, there is calcification in thinking, siloed pockets of ownership, and a self-limiting belief system of what is possible. It reminds me of the chaotic scenes from the book “The Phoenix Project”, where the IT organization was stuck in turf battles, negativity, and mistrust.

Rather than maintain the status quo, companies finding success in their transformation are turning “IT is a cost center” on its head and doubling down on their investment. That means bringing in tech savvy IT leadership that works directly with the CEO and board, co-locating product teams instead of offshoring technology, and fostering a collaborative community and “default open” communications culture. The irony is that doing all of these things reduces cost, speeds time to market of products & services, and leads to revenue growth.

Why highlight these three practices? Because the business and IT teams and executive leadership can then operate closer together. The digital expectations divide has little to do with ability and everything to do with visibility. If the C-suite viscerally grasps the complexity of their technology portfolio, they begin to better understand the risks and opportunities technology presents and better align expectations.

How is your organization aligning technology goals to business goals? Are there areas where expectations are misaligned and how are you solving that expectations divide?

What’s wrong with USB sticks that you need 3 tries to plug them in correctly?

We help IT leaders in enterprises solve the cultural challenges involved in digital transformation and move towards a community based culture that delivers innovation and customer value faster. Learn more about our work here.




Thoughts on developers, digital transformation, startups, community building & engineering culture. Author is Mark Birch @ AWS 👉