Infrastructure // PC & Servers
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4/27/2007
06:28 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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It Depends On What The Meaning Of 'IT' Is

My colleague Michael Singer recently posted a compelling item about the work and words of Nick Carr, who burst into prominence four years ago with a Harvard Business Review article called "IT Doesn't Matter" and shortly thereafter a book with the softer title, Does IT Matter? And now Carr is about to release a followup book. I wish Nick much success with his book sales because he's a rema

My colleague Michael Singer recently posted a compelling item about the work and words of Nick Carr, who burst into prominence four years ago with a Harvard Business Review article called "IT Doesn't Matter" and shortly thereafter a book with the softer title, Does IT Matter? And now Carr is about to release a followup book. I wish Nick much success with his book sales because he's a remarkably gracious and engaging guy, but I still insist that rarely has someone become so successful by being so wrong.A while back I was involved in some debates/discussions with Nick, and as I was preparing for the first I was winding myself up to really snarl at him and show him that my rejection of his theory was exceeded only by my dislike of him and the horse he rode in on. But then I met him, and liked him instantly: he's open, friendly, witty, and smart as heck. That bonhomie aside, I was intrigued to see in Singer's post that Carr's about to come out with a followup book. If Carr's recent comments are any indication of what the book's core message will be, then we should all prepare for another round of discussions with CEOs and CFOs who will suddenly be asking, "Do we really need all this crap?"

Singer's post offered the following quotations from Carr:

"I've been fascinated by the shift in the reactions to my article since it came out. The immediate response, from industry insiders, was, 'Don't listen to him. He's totally wrong.' After a while, that changed to, 'He's right about a lot of IT, but not all of it.' Then, after some more time passed, the response changed to, 'He's right in general, but there are important exceptions.' Now, what I tend to hear is, 'He was just stating the obvious.' All in all, I'm not displeased with that trend."

If this were 100% true across a large swath of the "industry insider" population, then I'd say bully for Nick, and I was wrong. But I haven't heard anyone say anything of the sort -- I don't know of a single person deeply engaged in this business who says that it's "obvious" that IT doesn't matter.

In fact, I'd go the other direction and defy anyone to come up with some companies that have risen recently to preeminence in their fields *without* a larger-than-ever dependence on IT.

Let's see: Google? Perhaps Nick can tell us how IT is largely irrelevant to what Google does. Toyota? In the past few years that company has used IT to totally revamp how it designs, engineers, procures parts for, manufactures, markets, sells, and services cars and trucks -- and during that time, its become more successful in the United States and around the globe. JPMorgan Chase? Arguably one of the most IT-intensive financial-services companies in the world.

"The main thrust of the article and, more so, the subsequent book, was that information technology should be viewed as a shared infrastructure rather than a source of competitive advantage."

Two quick thoughts on that: perhaps no company on Earth (or anywhere else, for that matter) depends as heavily on customized, deeply strategic IT, as Amazon.com, and a few days ago the company noted a blockbuster quarter, as reported this way on MarketWatch: "On Tuesday, Amazon reported a quarterly profit of $111 million, more than double the same period of a year ago. Sales rose 32% from 2006. Most important, those earnings beat analysts estimates by about 60%."

In addition, Amazon is using that world-class IT infrastructure, intelligence, and expertise to launch its foray into offering computing services to other companies. So IT's not a source of competitive advantage at Amazon? C'mon, Nick! And second, I'm not sure what "shared infrastructure" means, or how that is differentiated from "competitive advantage" -- any thoughts on that, dear readers?

But the most important point in this discussion is what you think: Does IT matter? Are you looking forward to Carr's new book? Is IT a source of competitive advantage or just a fancier version of other "shared infrastructures" such as running water, carpeting, and paint?

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