IT Doesn’t Matter-Ten Years Later


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In 2003, Nicholas Carr wrote an article with a title sharp as a dart, IT Doesn’t Matter.

“. . . the article went right after what was the essential marketing message that vendors were using then, which is, you need to be on the cutting edge or you’re going to get left behind. You need to spend big money on the latest hardware and software. And I said ‘well, no, you don’t.’ And that was upsetting to them,” Carr said in a May 14th, 2013, interview, ten years after the article ran in Harvard Business Review.

He nailed his target. In 2003, Microsoft’s Steve Ballmer called it hogwash. HP’s Carly Fiorina dismissed it, saying “there is no separation between IT and business, and technology is a weapon or a vulnerability.” But they weren’t the only ones hopping mad. IT Doesn’t Matter provoked many IT professionals. When I began my graduate program in management information technology in 2004, Carr’s article was required reading before our first class. I remember how hot and bothered everyone got discussing it.

“Carr argued that scarcity was what made a resource strategic, and that since high technology has become commonplace, managers should focus on mitigating risk rather than leveraging computer technology to gain competitive advantage,” Robert McMillan wrote in a 2003 Network World article. “. . . The idea that the basic technology was going to be neutralized as a competitive differentiator has basically panned out,” Carr said, looking back.

Carr acknowledges that some of his assertions from ten years ago have become stale. Twitter and Facebook did not exist in 2003. LinkedIn had gone live only nine days before Carr’s article was published. Viral was a term more familiar to epidemiologists than to Chief Marketing Officers. Sun Microsystems was flying high. “On other hand, there have been all sorts of other developments that you have to figure out—your cloud strategy, social media, marketing, apps,” Carr said last month. “So from another point of view, I think I probably understated the new things that IT departments would have to grapple with. Some of those things aren’t necessarily located within IT departments anymore. They’re as much about marketing departments and other things. But I don’t think I expressed the full range of what was to come, and what was to influence what IT departments would do.”

But Carr recognizes that his watershed article helped people look at IT’s relationship to business strategy in a new, more useful context. “In some ways what I think I did that hadn’t been done before, or at least hadn’t been done as clearly as I set it out, was to put the question of IT firmly into the broader question of business strategy. My argument was that this isn’t really about hardware or software, it’s not really about technology, it’s about broader issues of strategy. I think that question is always there.”

IT Doesn’t Matter foresaw the nascence of cloud computing, along with its potential for commoditizing infrastructure. “If you look at IT, the bulk of investment these days, certainly on the vendor side, is on cloud systems and applications. On the other hand, if you look at corporate spending, cloud is still a fairly small percentage of overall spending, even though it’s growing quickly.

“So we’re still kind of between two eras . . . The successful IT departments and IT managers will play a more strategic and kind of consultative role—thinking about marketing implications of apps and social media and things like that. I think the emphasis is still going to be on being the bridge between technological possibilities and business goals, and less about optimizing the technology itself. That’s a trend that has been going on for some time now and I think will continue.”

In IT Doesn’t Matter, Carr provided a logical and compelling counterpoint for IT product hype. A reasoned analysis for why “latest and greatest” doesn’t cut it in marketing messages. Why “no decision” about an IT procurement could be the best decision. Why IT salespeople who are fluent in features, benefits, feeds and speeds, but who are strategically ignorant, are washed up. IT Doesn’t Matter is as provocative today as it was in 2003—and just as valuable.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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