Enterprise IT shops play a variety of roles, from delivering basic services all the way up to implementing innovative strategies. At the 2017 Midmarket CIO Forum in Savannah, GA, Dan Roberts, CEO of Ouellette & Associates Consulting and author of Unleashing the Power of IT: Bringing People, Business, and Technology Together, explained the four-level IT maturity curve and how organizations can move up the curve to deliver more business value to their organization.

“The IT maturity curve is a research based curve that talks about what is the new journey?” Roberts said. “What does it look like in terms of where we are, where we’re going, and what is the strategy to get there?”

Here are the four stages in the curve, and advice for how your IT organization can move up the stack.

Stage 1: IT supplier

The IT supplier delivers basic IT services, including IT project management and business requirements. “It’s all about IT’s historic role, in terms of being a basic service provider–it’s very reactive and order taking,” Roberts told TechRepublic after his session. It may be the lowest level, “but it’s important for us to get that foundation in place,” he added.

SEE:Research: The CIO as business catalyst – Role, relevance, and value (Tech Pro Research)

Stage 2: Solution provider

The solution provider delivers reliable IT solutions, and also markets IT’s value and consulting skills. This stage is a step up the stack, but still involves responding to company needs rather than being proactive, Roberts said.

Stage 3: Strategic partner

The strategic partner IT organization delivers business value through IT innovation and agile transformation. It leads change within an organization. For years, the question of CIOs has been “How do we get to Stage 3?” Roberts said. “When you’ve achieved strategic partner status, you are in the first meeting of any new initiative in the company,” Roberts said. “It’s so important to get to Stage 3.”

Stage 4: Innovative anticipator

The innovative anticipator is a relatively new stage in the IT maturity curve. These IT shops deliver game-changing value to their organization by bringing new ideas and innovations that help the company disrupt competitors, and drive new revenue streams or customer experiences, Roberts said. “At this level, you’re not in the first meeting–you’re driving the first meeting,” he added.

Ouellette & Associates completed a study with Babson College examining the state of IT shops on the curve. It found that, at top-performing organizations, both business leaders and CIOs said the IT organization needs to take advantage of its unique end-to-end vantage point in the company and reach Stage 4. However, on average, CIOs and IT leadership rank themselves as a 1.5 on the scale–though they realize they need to be at a 3.5, Roberts said.

The scale is built on a foundation of talent and culture–two of the biggest challenges facing CIOs today, Roberts said.

The best CIOs lead transformation by setting a direction and refusing to look back, Roberts said. IT leaders who identify their staff as Stage 1 or Stage 2 can work to make continuous improvements over weeks and months, he added. They can do this by focusing on core skills including agility, communication, project management, and business acumen. “These are the new skills we need to instill in our organization to help us go up the stages, and become agile, innovative, and world-class,” Roberts said.