I think it could be similar to the discussions that some people have about why 3rd world countries can't just up and become first world over night. For a country to make this move they have to have certain things in place that can take years to achieve. These would include :
- Basic infrastructure (roads, sewerage, electricity etc)
- Peace and Law and Order
- Stable Political Environment and Low Levels of corruption (this never goes away - see David Cameron dinner parties)
- Natural Resources (to fund the economy)
- Stable Commercial and Trading system
Without these they can't jump to the 1st world as the 1st world just assumes that most of the above is already their. Would a Starbucks work with out the above ? Are iPhone apps important without these ?
So what are the IT indicators for a company with 3rd world IT ?
You might think that this would be simple, surely 1st world IT companies has new shiny computers and 3rd world don't, but I think it is more complex than this. Lets work on the items above one by one :
It is one thing to have a super set of hardware with fancy virtualisation software, but if you don't have people who know how to use it, it is like having power stations you can't fire up or a sewerage system no one know how to un-block. Just look what happened when the Romans left Britain, all the infrastructure was their but no one knew how it worked.
Peace and Law and Order
If everyone is fighting and you can't trust the state you get anarchy. This is where policies and guidelines fit into a 1st world IT company. 3rd world companies spend too much time on civil wars over competing vendor stacks.
Stable Political Environment and Low Levels of corruption
In the context of 3rd world IT - I would see partners and software providers playing the role of aid agencies and/or corrupt government agencies. Get these right and you can build a stable platform that can help you grow, get it wrong and they will suck funds away from where you need it.
Probably obvious but you can't get from 3rd world to 1st world for free, if IT isn't funded as an asset all you can do is limp along. In don't blame companies for under funding IT as done badly IT can spend money quicker then anyone for few benefits.
Stable Commercial and Trading system
I would suggest that in the 3rd world IT context a commercial system is best represented by the processes that decide which projects get done based on robust business cases.
So what is your IT department ? 1st world or 3rd world ?