Business Technology: It's Time To Start Reaching Again
Not since Columbus landed in America has anyone reaped such rewards for being so wrong: The guy who penned the misguided "IT Doesn't Matter" piece earlier this year for the Harvard Business Review is now extending his fantasy into an entire book. (Note to self: After it comes out, monitor closely to see which section it's placed in--fiction or nonfiction.) This is the undoubtedly intelligent and persuasive but still off-the-mark guy over whom BusinessWeek recently fawned, offering up an extensive overview of his mythical musings and in effect saying he's the one person brave enough to tell the emperor that he's naked as the day he was born. Apparently, the author's sticking by his hypothesis and is tilting it even more bizarrely away from hardware infrastructure and toward the realm of software. Yes, software. You know, that stuff in which data and information and knowledge and processes and applications and community reside; that commodity stuff that does not matter. Which makes me wonder why Nicholas Carr would write a whole book about something that doesn't matter--if you write a book about something that doesn't matter, does the book matter? But I'm probably just jealous and simply don't understand.
Terror, totalitarian states, and their ways are nothing new to me, but I felt from the start that this was in a category by itself, with the possible exception in the present world of North Korea. I felt that that was the central truth that has to be told about this place. It was also the essential truth that was untold by the vast majority of correspondents here.
-- New York Times reporter John Burns, quoted in a new book called "Embedded: The Media at War in Iraq"
Then again, perhaps the master of the antimatter theory is beginning to recant just a bit. Someone last week told me he'd heard Carr speak recently and, in reply to a question, he said that if he could change one thing in the book, it would be to amend his forecast that the job of CIOs should forever more be boring; that is to say, uneventful, risk-averse, me-too, and terrified of initiative. The word he would change is "boring"--I didn't get what he would put in its place, but from the perspective of his original article, he could replace boring with cautious or slow-moving or tentative or indecisive; maybe even caretaker, yes-man, bit-twiddler, or lickspittle. But heavens no, not boring.
Ah, well--such things are the stuff of life here in America as we all ponder where this business of ours is, where it's headed, and what it will be like in two or three or five years. We are emerging from a 30-month period during which we for the most part began to believe that such speculation about the future and the possible were misplaced. We began to believe that the measure of our worth was in the depth of our cuts: of people, risks, and even innovation. We began to believe that we had been suckers, that what we had committed our aspirations to was popping open like a cheap suitcase that revealed our shabby possessions. In our descent, we even began to believe the worst of the charges against us, and in so doing, we helped make the world ready to cluck over the canard that "IT Doesn't Matter."
Well, as they say in sports when an underdog kicks the snot out of the favorite, "That's why they play the games." And as surely as Mr. Carr rushes to refute it, I will affirm that business technology has never mattered more than it does now, and that it will matter more and more in the coming years. Because just as the old DP/MIS described a world of mainframes and punch cards, so too does the current term of business technology embrace the twin themes of processes AND technology, inseparable today in a world where every market and every industry are increasingly turning to these tools to enable the innovation and behaviors that drive competitive advantage. It is, as ever, an issue to be decided by the human spirit and our sense of what we can or can't do, can or can't achieve. And as we emerge from our malaise, we human spirits each have a decision to make: Are we going to succumb to the fatalism of "IT doesn't matter," or are we going to regain our sense of the adventure and once more embrace Browning's idea that "A man's reach must exceed his grasp, or what's a Heaven for"?
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