If you’ve ever spent time in a casino, you’re probably aware
of the concept of “table stakes,” the minimum bet required to enter a
game, usually poker. Over time, the table stake rises with general inflation,
and table stakes will usually go higher or lower depending on the quality of
the casino. Enter the VIP room at a fancy casino, and there are likely several
zeros after the table stake, while a rundown joint on the seedy side of town is
probably far lower.

Like differing table stakes, businesses and markets all have
different expectations for technology. It’s a given at a manufacturing company
that the CIO has a firm grasp of ERP systems, but perhaps the stakes are lower
when it comes to marketing automation and CRM software. While this is fairly
obvious, one of the dangers I’ve noticed in IT leaders is not observing how table
stakes are increasing around them, while they maintain the status quo in their
own organization.

Heathcare.gov versus Amazon.com

If you live in the US, you’re likely aware of the troubled rollout of a new national healthcare system. The centerpiece of
the new system was to be an online exchange, Healthcare.gov, where citizens
could easily compare and buy health insurance.

The site launch was a textbook failure, replete with
crashes, failed transactions, and confused and frustrated users. Months after
the rollout, a “tech surge” launched by the Obama administration was
supposed to have fixed many of the problems, and the talking heads proudly
hailed that Healthcare.gov was able to handle nearly 50,000 site visitors a
day, after tens of millions of dollars of emergency spending.

While 50,000 visitors might have been laudable a decade ago,
the average CIO likely sees transactional volumes like this in even midsize
companies. Furthermore, the announcement touting the 50,000 visitors figure
coincided with the “Black Friday” shopping rush, when Amazon.com
casually mentioned setting a new record of processing in excess of 300
transactions per second, surpassing
Healthcare.gov by a factor of 10 in only one hour — and making the government’s
announcement akin to showing up at the fanciest Las Vegas casino and proudly
dropping a worn and tattered one dollar bill at the high-limit, VIP table.

Take a walkabout

Industry journals and the IT press are ways of staying
abreast of rising table stakes; however, it’s also worth getting outside your
own IT organization. As consumer technology invades most organizations, observe
how the Googles and Apples that are providing these devices are changing
end-user expectations. Join a local IT leadership group and speak with IT
leaders outside your own industry. While a consumer products company will
obviously have different table stakes around some technologies than a commodity
B2B supplier, speaking with organizations at the leading edge of their
respective technical disciplines will give you a taste of what’s likely headed
your way in a few years.

This is also a good area for help from research
organizations and consulting groups, many of which have massive R&D budgets
and staffs of what amounts to futurists who ponder where IT will be in the
decades to come. These types of organizations can also identify where you’re “under
betting,” allowing you to launch corrective action before you’re thrown
off the metaphorical table.

Raise the game

As you become attuned to changing table stakes both within
and outside your industry, you may eventually be presented with an opportunity
to raise them yourself. Just as Amazon fundamentally changed the expectations
for high-volume ecommerce, you may be able to develop a proprietary technology
or innovative method for deploying existing IT tools. Even using your broad
cross-industry knowledge might allow your organization to “borrow” a
trend from another industry and deploy it before it even appears on your
competitors’ radar.

Whether you change the game or not, at least develop an
awareness of the changing IT table stakes, lest you find yourself touting
statistics that might impress someone from 2002 but won’t even get you in the
game today.