Thursday, December 10, 2009

What is Technology Maturity?

@madgreek65 asks whether cloud computing is "mature", and whether it matters (What the masses are missing about the cloud).

I suggest that there are several characteristic features of a technology or product, indicating whether it is mature or immature.

Product Stability
Subject to frequent and significant improvements. In a state of "permanent beta".
Stable. New releases are fairly predictable upgrades.
Conceptual Stability
Terminological disputes. Disagreements as to what the technology is "all about".
Terminology "taken for granted".

A small number of early adopters trying ambitious stuff. Little consensus about how the technology should be deployed and used.
A large user community doing similar stuff. Use of the technology has become standardized "best practice".
Large untapped market. Rapid growth possible, under favourable conditions.
Relatively little scope for further growth.
Absent or unreliable
Adoption Risk
Adoption Benefits
Potentially high

This notion of technological maturity has the following consequences.

1. It is unrelated to quality or value. A mature technology or product can be unimaginative, boring, almost obsolescent, whereas an immature technology can be visionary, exciting in conception and engineered to the highest standards.

2. Maturity is as much to do with the community of users (technology-in-use) as about the designed products (technology-as-built).

3. The adoption roadmap for an immature technology may be rather complicated. One of the main reasons for this is that the adoption programme needs to bridge the gap between technology-as-built and technology-in-use. There is also a common preference for a cautious stepwise approach - pilot projects, proof of concept and so on. But the stakes can be much higher.

As Mike points out, for any technology that is in the hype phase, there is a lot of resistance to change, and this is certainly true for cloud computing. Mike suggests that a lower-risk adoption approach will win over the sceptical.
"The reason why I encourage those who are pessimistic about the cloud to try one of these low risk scenarios is once they see how easy it is, how productive they can be, and how inexpensive the project will be, then maybe they will see the value and investigate further."
For many people, this is the preferred approach for an immature technology. However, there are some specific risks associated with a slow adoption curve, which I shall discuss in a future post.

See also previous post: CEP and technological maturity

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