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Last year, Gartner began to expose a bunch of “Maverick Research,” which it is using to encourage innovative thinking around relevant IT topics.  This has become one of my favorite watering holes to satisfy my thirst for new information and new models for solving strategic business problems.  I highly encourage you to spend some time on Gartner’s Maverick site.

This week, I took one of my strolls through the Maverick section of the site, and one of the papers that caught my eye was, “Maverick* Research: Walmart Will Reign When Corporations Become Nations.”

A lot of positions are taken in this article, including musing about Walmart declaring itself as a nation, but one statement that really struck me is this:

“[Walmart has] a history of exploiting IT to deliver competitive advantage — and it can deploy these to provide the citizens of Walmart Nation with cost- efficient services that correspond with the lower layers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.”

What does this mean?  Walmart clearly understands the business value of IT, and leverages that as a competitive advantage.  Makes sense that we would all strive for that kind of value in our own organizations, doesn’t it?

Maslow for IT?

Another thing that jumped out at me is the notion of aligning the value provided with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.  In the human condition, that means we always cover the basics (breathing, food, water, procreation, sleep, critical bodily functions, etc.) before we can move to some of the more discretionary needs, like creativity, love and belonging, etc.

What is the Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for your business?  For some, the “must haves” are things like revenue, profit, business availability, etc; while the discretionary things may be giving back to the community, employee satisfaction, company parties, etc.

It would be interesting to figure out what the “hierarchy of needs” is for your business, and ensure you are taking care of the most important things first.  I’ve created a (very rough) example of a pyramid to give you an idea of what I’m thinking of, below:

Maslow Business

Your pyramid may look different, have more layers, etc.  but I think you’ll find that there is clearly some kind of a “bottom layer of the pyramid” that must be protected above all else.

Practical advice from the Mavericks at Gartner

I could go on about this topic for a while but, rather than do that, I will present some of the recommendations from this paper, as I think they provide some excellent food for thought:


CEOs and CIOs:  To survive and thrive in the face of threats from “juggernaut” competitors like Walmart:

  • In the short to midterm (that is, 12 to 24 months):
    • Focus on sustaining the trust and loyalty of your customers by delivering on the basic expectations of those who consume your products and services.
    • Get a sound understanding of what your organization’s core competencies are and how they will help you deliver the customer basics.
  • For the long term, and to prepare for the future:
    • Implement an achievable plan for the reorganization, which is needed to support sustainable delivery of your customer basics.
    • Keep abreast of technological, societal and business trends — in particular, how your customers are using technology.
    • Investigate the stated future strategies of world-class leading companies, other businesses in your industry and those with which you partner.

This list was intended to be applied at the business level but it’s easy to reframe the advice to make it more applicable to our charter in information security and operations.  By rewording the guidance to focus on IT’s customers (internal and external), and on delivering value to them, it’s easier to envision ways of using technological innovation that is very aligned with the needs of the business.