Whether IT matters or is at all strategic

Greetings and Salutations,

Well, he’s at it again.

Who? Nicholas G. Carr, that’s who.

Infamously known for his article IT Doesn’t Matter (Harvard Business Review, Vol. 81, No. 5, May, 2003) that caused an uproar in the industry, spouting numerous response white papers, books and is quite possibly the most quoted paper (and later – book) in recent IT article history.

Mr Carr’s most recent article, The Next IT Revolution (CIO Insight, May, 2005) has already inspired no less a whiplash from the magazine’s readers and the IT Community at large (see below for links).

In the first article, Carr states that IT is a commodity and makes an analogy to the railway transportation industry. In his new article, an analogy is drawn between computing and electrical power generation.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I think he has a lot of valid points, but his reasoning and final conclusions are a little concerning. I almost wonder if he personally doesn’t get it, or whether he is simply cashing in on the widely held opinion of accounting and business type IT management?

I wonder how many of those managers would have agreed with Thomas Watson of IBM in 1943 when he claimed:

I think there is a world market for maybe five computers

or with Bill Gates in 1981 when he said those infamous words,

640K ought to be enough memory for anybody

?

So where do I sit?

Simple.

IT is a tool.

How you wield it is what turns it from a commodity item into a strategic advantage.

If you perceive IT as purely the technology. If you perceive that the value of IT is placing automation tools (desktops, applications, storage, etc) in the hands of the business, then that is all it is. Pure and simple – IT is a commodity. Why even try to pretend that you have an Information Systems department? Why pretend that as a CIO or Senior IT personnel you add value to the company? Take off your fancy 3-piece suit, don your overalls and fine-tune your cost-center department to become a well-oiled, maintenance-of-technology-components department.

However, if you dream of the ways that a wireless handheld can improve customer response times and operational efficiencies; how by virtualising the desktop you can mobilise your entire workforce and reduce costs; or perhaps the way common scanning systems can be integrated into a central purchasing system to speed up and automate your logistics across the country? Then IT is definitively strategic.

I agree with Carr that savings can be achieved by applying his “Consolidate. Standardize. Prune.” concept – but remember, the goal is to provide value to your host business, as well as provide savings from the commodity technology. Never compromise on the solution for the short term gain of saving a few dollars. When a solution truly provides a strategic advantage to the business, it is easy to justify, easy to defend, and just as easy to have funds allocated.

Want to read more on this topic? There’s no shortage of material, some interesting articles to begin with and explore:

TTFN!

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