Bruce Guptill, founder and Chief Strategist, Addressable Markets LLC
I recently had a lot of fun presenting on “The Art of Explaining Complex IT for Fun and Profit” with IT
outsourcing innovator e-Core Systems, as part of their annual e-Core Connections event. I used the
opportunity to liken complex enterprise IT to rocks, focusing on how each has the same intrinsic value.
Net/net: if you can’t understand and explain the operational business value of complex enterprise IT, in
the right business context, then your cool tech is worth as much as a bag of rocks. Or maybe just one
Let’s start by looking at what a poor investment enterprise IT, and IT in general, seem to be.
After more than five decades of developing and using enterprise IT, between 40% and 66% of enterprise
IT projects still end in partial or total failure. Large projects are considered successful less than 10% of
the time. And between 65% and 90% of IT startups fail within 3 years.1
Why are we not getting better returns on IT investment? Because developers, sellers, buyers, and users
fail to understand and/or clearly explain the business value that the technology can and should provide.
In our analysis of more than 200 market research studies, “Lack of understanding regarding purpose” is
the most commonly recurring factor cited by the intended beneficiaries of IT investment. Users don’t
know how the tech is supposed to help them, and sellers aren’t doing a good job explaining that.
The providers and vendors that tend to be perceived as real market leaders, tend to be those that can
walk through how IT gets adopted, then adapted, to improve what gets done by whom – AND to explain
how additional value is enabled, and why.
Spoiler alert: that’s the secret of explaining complex IT to any audience.
Put another way: For enterprises, and for the IT providers serving them, the best explanations of
business IT do not talk much about the technology itself. The technology is a thing that can be adopted
and adapted into a tool.
Picture, if you will, a rock. By itself, the rock does almost nothing. It sits there until adapted and
effectively implemented. There’s little if any conceptual difference between advanced IT and that rock.
Effective explanations of business IT describe how the technology gets used to improve how people and
systems work. In other words, we answer the questions, “What does the tool do, and how is it used?”
Or, “What can we do with this rock?”
If you cannot adequately explain these things, then the explanation, and the tech itself, have very little
value. This should seem pretty obvious.
But in most markets, technology itself is still presented and perceived as a benefit, or even as a savior,
when it comes to business and personal challenges. Product value propositions and evaluations still tend
to emphasize the potential of both the tech and the provider. This is mainly because the technology
creates possibilities, which appeal to the aspirational nature of organizations and people.
But as a result, “Technology” is also positioned and accepted as a differentiator. It is not.
In reality, “Technology” is nothing more than raw material that can be adapted into business tools. Like
a rock that can be adapted into a hammer, an axe, a set of arrowheads, a shovel, a mace, a plow, a fire-
starter, and more.
Technology itself is not innovative. Like a rock, it just sits there unless and until it gets used. The fact
that your firm has rocks is not innovative; the fact that your firm uses rocks is not innovative. Innovation
lies in how we can and do adapt the rocks to our needs. To improving what we do and how we do it.
Adapting the rock into an axe that allows you to not only cut down trees but to then build shelter, fire,
and develop other tools and weapons? That’s innovative.
The best explanations of complex technology center on how users can adopt and adapt the technology
to accomplish and improve necessary functionality. If you can’t explain, with context-relevant examples,
how a technology improves what gets done in your business, then you shouldn’t be using that
technology. It will cost more to acquire it, implement it, make it work, and support it – all of which
reduce the return on IT investment, and pave the path to project failure.
But when you clearly explain and emphasize how well everyone can use the technology to do things
better and to do better things? Then everyone has a story that people will listen to and benefit from.
You can get more and better funding, leadership and worker buy-in, AND more easily find more ways to
improve what gets done.
The most effective explanations also account for adaptation of technology into innovative ways of
working. Explain, with examples, how a technology improves what gets done, in your business context.
Improvements may be in risk, cost, speed, volume, productivity, control, and more. Even relationships.
Understanding and explanation like this is why we have seen the greatest growth among providers that
understand and can explain how technologies, the tools they bring to clients, are best used within user,
functional, and market context. Services providers especially succeed because they know how to adopt
and adapt technologies into more and better ways of improving what clients do.
That’s where the value of the technology is, and therefore where its explanation must focus.
Otherwise, your technology is about as good as a rock.
To gain these insights and more, fill out the form and access the On-Demand session!
Guptill is founder and Chief Strategist with Addressable Markets LLC, a research and consulting firm that
assesses tech and services value, market opportunity, and go-to-market strategy.
1 “Success” is defined as stakeholder satisfaction or a return of the original investment. 40% rate
= Addressable Markets LLC 2020-2022 review of 200+ IT industry case studies. 66% rate =
Standish Group Annual CHAOS 2020 report, based on analysis of 50,000 projects globally. VC
failure stats: HBR & Inc. magazine, personal interviews with VC firms. Business startup failure
rate: Inc., Bloomberg, USDoC, other sources