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Does IT Matter?

Cliff posted more than 10 years ago | from the is-the-sky-blue? dept.

Businesses 363

geoff313 asks: "I'm sure many of you are aware of the uproar over Nicholas Carr's article 'IT Doesn't Matter' which was published in the Harvard Business Review, back in May. While many big names in the IT world have responded already to Carr's article (Ballmer has declared it 'Hogwash' and Fiorina has pronounced it 'Dead Wrong'), Carr debated vendor executives Monday at the Comdex trade show, proving that the issues he raised are still resonaating through the industry. Do you feel that corporate IT budgets should be focusing on cutting edge technology to best serve its customer's needs, or should they focus on shoring up what they have now in order to maximize its usefulness to the customer? Some background can be found from the Washington Post, InfoWorld, and ZDNet, as well as at Nicholas Carr's site."

"For those of you unfamiliar his philosophy, it can be summed up pretty thoroughly by his statement 'Follow, don't lead,' arguing that the huge advances in the IT industry over the last two decades have erased the strategic advantage to be had by corporations for staying at the cutting edge of technology. In short, he advises 'executives need to shift their attention from IT opportunities to IT risks - from offense to defense.' Of course the head honchos at IBM and Microsoft disagreed with him, citing Wal-Mart's use of RFID tags to keep track of inventory and other forward thinking IT decisions as a refutation of his thesis.

What I am interested in is the opinion of those in trenches of the IT war."

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363 comments

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Don't forget... (-1)

SCO$699FeeTroll (695565) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516150)

...to pay your $699 licensing fee you cock-smoking teabaggers.

Re:Don't forget... (-1)

handybundler (232934) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516280)

To quote Revenge of the Nerds, "IT just doesn't matter! IT just doesn't matter! IT just doesn't matter!"

Re:Don't forget... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516387)

ah, handybundler, my favorite of the bundlers.

Re:Don't forget... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516482)

Correction: It was MeatBalls with Bill Murray.

Your favorite of the bundlers,
-hb, past my 2pad limit.

Balmer (4, Funny)

glassesmonkey (684291) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516163)

Developers.. Developers.. Developers.. Developers.. (Thanks Steve for the millions of smiles)

Re:Balmer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516419)

POOPSEX

i luv to eat taco's doo-doo butter. his feces are in my stomach as we speak.

Re:Balmer (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516527)

I don't get it.

first boring post (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516164)

bleh

Re:first boring post (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516332)

Not boring. Lame.

mirror (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516171)

In this article, published in the May 2003 edition of the Harvard Business Review, I examine the evolution of information technology in business and show that it follows a pattern strikingly similar to that of earlier technologies like railroads and electric power. For a brief period, as they are being built into the infrastructure of commerce, these "infrastructural technologies," as I call them, open opportunities for forward-looking companies to gain strong competitive advantages. But as their availability increases and their cost decreases - as they become ubiquitous - they become commodity inputs. From a strategic standpoint, they become invisible; they no longer matter. Seeing IT in this light reveals important new imperatives for the corporate management of information technology. In brief, executives need to shift their attention from IT opportunities to IT risks - from offense to defense.

The article provides a small part of a broader exploration of the influence of information technology on business strategy, which will be published next spring as a book - Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage - by the Harvard Business School Press.

You can preorder the book today at a 30% discount from Amazon.com.

download reprint of HBR article

You can now download a copy of "IT Doesn't Matter" from Amazon.com.

responses to article

[note that all the following links worked when originally posted; some may no longer be active]

"IT Doesn't Matter" was featured in a major article on the IT industry by Steve Lohr in the May 4 Sunday New York Times. The article was reprinted on May 5 in the International Herald Tribune.

Computerworld's May 12 issue features an interview with me as well as a rebuttal of my article.

Information Week's editor in chief, Bob Evans, provides another counterpoint to my article in that magazine's May 12 issue. He also says, "The article is thoughtful and sweeping and quite interesting to read. I'd heartily recommend it."

Stewart Alsop mentions "IT Doesn't Matter" in his column in the May 12 edition of Fortune.

A somewhat testy Craig Barrett, Intel's CEO, "fired back" at my article in remarks to reporters before a May 15 analysts meeting, arguing that the IT infrastructure is critical to competitiveness. Judging from his comments, I'm not sure Mr. Barrett actually read the article (I don't blame him; I'm sure he's busy). As I make clear in the piece, the IT infrastructure is indeed essential to competitiveness, particularly at the regional and industry level. My point, however, is that it is no longer a source of advantage at the firm level - it doesn't enable individual companies to distinguish themselves in a meaningful way from their competitors. Essential to competitiveness but inconsequential to strategic advantage: that's why IT is best viewed (and managed) as a commodity.

Steve Lohr has another excellent article on the prospects of the tech industry in the May 16 New York Times (reprinted in the International Herald Tribune). He features my article as well as Craig Barrett's remarks on it. He makes two critical points that are sometimes being lost in the current debate: ". . . it is possible to agree that technology can deliver broad productivity gains without necessarily delivering higher profits or competitive gains for individual companies, a point made by Mr. Carr. It is also possible to agree that the technology industry continues to be innovative and important, without also accepting that it will be a growth industry as it has been in the past."

John Hagel and John Seely Brown have written a response to my article, saying that it "will have a significant impact in the business world" (but that it's "also dangerous").

General Motors CIO Ralph Szygenda offers some thoughtful comments on my article in the May 19 Information Week. He says, "Nicholas Carr may ultimately be correct when he says IT doesn't matter . . . [but] business-process improvement, competitive advantage, optimization, and business success do matter and they aren't commodities. To facilitate these business changes, IT can be considered a differentiator or a necessary evil. But today, it's a must in a real-time corporation . . . I also agree on spending the minimum on IT to reach desired business results. Precision investment on core infrastructure and process-differentiation IT systems is called for in today's intensely cost-conscious business versus the shotgun approach sometimes used in the past." I find it interesting, and perhaps telling, that while my argument has certainly raised the hackles of IT vendors, consultants, and pundits, most of the actual IT executives I've heard from have expressed genuine interest in and considerable agreement for my point of view.

Computerworld takes another whack at the article in its May 19 issue: "You can get real business advantage with technology. You just don't get it from products, services and information. You get it from processes, skills and execution - the same things that let any business differentiate itself in ways that don't involve IT." So you can get advantage from technology, but not actually from the technology. Okay. I can live with that.

eWeek has published a brief article on "IT Doesn't Matter."

Various IT research houses have issued comments on my article: Gartner, Alinean, Peerstone.

Bill Gates "assailed" my article in a speech at Microsoft's CEO Summit on May 21, saying, "And so when somebody says, to take the extreme quote from the Harvard Business Review article, they say IT doesn't matter, they must be saying that with all this information flow, we've either achieved a limit where it's just perfect, everybody sees exactly what they want, or we've gotten to a point where it simply can't be improved - and that's where we'd object very strenuously." Just to be clear, what the article argues is that we're at the point where any technological improvement in the management of information will be quickly and broadly copied, rendering it meaningless for competitive advantage.

USA Today has a smart piece in its May 22 edition that examines the different competitive approaches of IBM and Dell through the lens of my article.

Information Week has posted a brief article titled "CIOs Sure Think IT Matters." It quotes the CTO of General Motors saying, "Brakes are a commodity, but I don't think anybody would say they don't matter."

David Kirkpatrick, a tech writer at Fortune, has launched a spirited, but glancing, attack on my article. Kirkpatrick first offers a convenient misreading of my argument, claiming that it deals only with hardware rather than with both hardware and software (not true at all), and then uses that as a platform for some furious verbal hand-waving. Of course hardware doesn't matter, he says, and then quotes a Microsoft executive: "the source of competitive advantage in business is what you do with the information that technology gives you access to." Yes, but how companies use the information they collect - about markets, operations, money flows, etc., etc. - has always been a potential source of advantage, or disadvantage. (The same could be said of the way they use electricity.) Making such a point isn't particularly interesting, but it does enable you to neatly sidestep the issue of IT commoditization. [Note that Fortune is now charging for access to its archives. Thanks to those AOL TimeWarner synergies, however, you can still read this piece for free over at CNN.com.]

Adam Lashinsky, another Fortune writer, contrasts my argument with Kirkpatrick's in a piece on the CNN/Money website. Lashinsky concludes: "As in any good intellectual debate, both writers make good points. Carr is accurately describing the technology world in the post-bubble era. Kirkpatrick proves that innovation isn't over yet. My hunch is that prudent investors, however, will side with Carr."

A thread of messages on "IT Doesn't Matter" has begun to unspool on ZDNet. It's noteworthy only because it includes the first airing, to my knowledge, of a conspiracy theory regarding the origins of my article. "In all likelihood," the poster writes, "it's a group of rich individuals with similar interests in keeping IT wages down that not only had a hand in the HBR article in the first place, but also a hand in making sure references to it appeared in the NYT." My lips are sealed.

In the May 29 Washington Post, Leslie Walker takes an insightful look at my article and the controversy it's stirred up. She concludes: "Carr may be early in calling this a turning point for the industry -- for some companies, there probably still is strategic value left to be squeezed out of clever implementation of information technology. But the elbow room for seizing sustainable leads through technology is clearly diminishing as standards proliferate and computing power accelerates."

David Ticoll takes issue with some of my conclusions in the May 29 edition of the Toronto Globe and Mail.

In Australian IT, a Gartner vice president offers a somewhat meandering rebuttal of my article under the melancholy title "Dousing the Embers of Hope." In response to my suggestion that, when it comes to investing in new information technologies, companies would often be smarter to be followers rather than leaders, he counters with this: "Without those individuals who have courage and conviction to lead the rest of us, where would humankind be?"

Dan Farber provides a useful summary and critique of my argument at ZD Net.

Chad Dickerson calls my article a "must-read" in InfoWorld, saying, "You know what? Carr is right and IT staff should take heed." He goes on to examine some staffing implications.

On June 2, National Public Radio's Marketplace featured a lively segment on "IT Doesn't Matter," comparing the article to (I'm not kidding) Martin Luther's 95 Theses. (Requires RealPlayer.)

Another Microsoft executive had a go at the article in a June 2 speech at the Tech.Ed conference in Dallas. "I have access to golf clubs," he reportedly said, "but I am not Tiger Woods." And even if he upgrades those clubs every year, he will still not be Tiger Woods.

The CEO of a software vendor cites the article in an eWeek interview. Another eWeek piece, by Lisa Vaas, summarizes the article and reports on reactions to it. "Much of the [article's] premise makes sense to the enterprises that consume technology," Vaas writes.

Jimmy Guterman asks me three questions in Health-IT World.

The Fortune tech writer David Kirkpatrick squeezes another column out of my article by reporting on the responses he's received to his earlier column. The most telling quote comes from the CEO of a software company that, Kirkpatrick tells us, "builds sophisticated software for collaboration." Says this CEO: "We just closed several deals with leading Fortune 100 companies using our software to differentiate their ability to get vast international sales and marketing ecosystems working together to respond faster and more correctly to customers. This is not a 'me too!'" But if he's already sold the same system to "several" Fortune 100 companies, one has to wonder how differentiating the technology really is. It's difficult to purchase competitive advantage from an outside supplier who's peddling the same "advantage" to your peers.

The lead article in the Financial Times' special section on IT in the June 4 edition contains a reference to "IT Doesn't Matter." The article, "Corporate Computing Tries to Find a New Path," is well worth reading, though it does require a subscription to FT.com.

Steve Ballmer weighs in in a memo to Microsoft employees.

The Harvard Business School features two excerpts of my article on its Working Knowledge site.

The Guardian (London) features an evenhanded review of my article and responses to it in its June 12 edition.

The Harvard Business Review has released a 17-page compilation of letters about "IT Doesn't Matter." It's a free download.

Mike Langberg discusses my article in a column in the June 16 San Jose Mercury News. He calls the article "thought-provoking and well worth reading" and examines Oracle's proposed takeover of PeopleSoft in light of my argument.

George Colony, CEO of Forrester Research, uses the felicitous image of CIOs stomping on icebergs in arguing that while the bulk of IT no longer matters, a little bit still does.

Scott Leibs offers an interesting take on my article in the Summer edition of CFO magazine's IT supplement.

In the June 16 Information Week, Jeffrey Kaplan pens a perceptive article on how the tech business may change as IT commoditization continues. It opens with a reference to my article: "[Carr's 'IT Doesn't Matter'] sent shockwaves through the technology world as vendors and consultants scampered to refute his suggestion that commoditization had made technology irrelevant. Noticeably silent in this debate have been business executives who grew tired and impatient with technology long ago. While they haven't spoken out, their changing buying behavior says loud and clear that Carr's arguments are more on target than the IT industry is willing to believe."

The June 23 New York Times has a third article by Steve Lohr examining the prospects for the IT industry, again featuring an extensive discussion of my article and the reaction to it. The article also appears in the Tuscaloosa News.

Val Souza, editor of India's Express Computer, discusses "IT Doesn't Matter" in the June 23 issue.

Mohan Babu uses my article as a jumping off point to discuss IT professionals' career strategies as IT becomes a commodity.

Paul Andrews writes on my article in the June 23 Seattle Times, noting, "Even as their words reject Carr's thesis, industry leaders' actions seem to be proving him out."

A Fortune article on the prospects for Silicon Valley mentions my article. "The seeds to the next boom," it says, hopefully mixing metaphors, "are being sown now."

Baseline features some comments from me in an article on CIO pay.

Fortune's tech writer David Kirkpatrick once again misreads my argument at the end of a sentimental column comparing Larry Ellison and Steve Jobs (two executives leading very different companies competing in very different markets with very different strategies).

Calling "IT Doesn't Matter" "the rhetorical equivalent of a 50-megaton smart bomb," Mark Anderson examines the reaction from Canada in a long piece in the June 26 Ottawa Citizen.

Cisco Systems has issued a response to my article by its CIO, Brad Boston. He claims that "IT is becoming a more powerful tool for gaining competitive advantage, not less so." But he also admits that "Wal-Mart, Amazon, eBay, and other great companies didn't succeed because their information technology was better than others. Their vision was."

A thread on Slashdot discusses "IT Doesn't Matter," with one poster writing of the article: "It makes a number of points that I think most of us on Slashdot wish were more widely understood. I think most of us here want IT to be recognized as critical infrastructure. This is where conservative arguments in favor of open source, standardization, interoperability, and security really start to come together. It's a field for pragmatic professionals, rather than the uncritical promotion of gee-whiz product features."

It's Monday (July 7), and that means a new round of stories in Computerworld, eWeek, and Information Week. The Computerworld piece, titled "IT Does So Matter!," features comments by Rob Austin, Andrew McAfee, Paul Strassman, and Tom DeMarco. Strassman at one point says: "Right now only the CFO can go to jail. My hope is for the CIO of the future to be also eligible to go to jail."

Microsoft's Paul Flessner discusses "IT Doesn't Matter" in a CNET interview. He says: "It's just silly to think that there's no competitive advantage to be made in IT. It's insanity in my mind."

Steve Steinke, editor in chief of Network Magazine, surveys reactions to my article in his column in the latest issue. "There are a handful of thoughtful comments," he writes, "but I saw no sign of telling rebuttal from any of the detractors." He concludes: "The article doesn't say that IT spending ought necessarily decline, that high performing IT organizations aren't necessary for competing successfully, or that it's impossible to gain competitive advantage with IT. Some commentators apparently read these things into it, but the real argument is harder to attack successfully. I find the overall piece, if not the title, to be fundamentally persuasive and not simply provocative."

John Taschek also offers a strong defense of my argument in the July 14 eWeek. He writes: "I'll bet that plenty of the article's critics have not read it. Industry partisans who have read it but can't accept much of it as true are either awash in denial or so obsessed with self-preservation that they're blinded to facts."

CNET makes a passing reference to my article in a piece on Google.

The powers-that-be at Microsoft continue to chew on "IT Doesn't Matter." At the company's July 24 financial analysts meeting, Steve Ballmer said, "Our fundamental response to that is: hogwash. We look out there like kids in a candy store saying what a great world we live in," while Bill Gates put it this way: "We disagree with all of this. We fully acknowledge the harsh realities . . . [but] there are solutions to every one of those things."

The ubiquitous Michael Schrage lambastes my argument in the August issue of CIO Magazine, although it appears that he failed to read beyond the first couple of pages of my article. Schrage claims that I say that "the quality of management matters far less than the quantity of the commodity," but that, of course, is exactly the opposite of what I say. Indeed, by the end of his piece, Schrage ends up circling around to confirm my essential thesis. I assume this is, by the way, the same Michael Schrage who recently wrote that in many markets "information has become so plentiful that it has become commoditized and marginalized" and who also recently said that "there is no correlation at all between innovation and profitability. Anybody who thinks there's a correlation between innovation and profitability doesn't understand innovation and doesn't understand profitability."

Robert Weisman examines my article and the "bitter response" to it from some in the IT industry in an article in the August 3 Boston Sunday Globe.

In the August 4 Wall Street Journal, Lee Gomes mentions "IT Doesn't Matter" in a perceptive article (requires subscription) on the recent mini-boom in tech stocks. Writes Gomes: "Many captains of the tech industry criticized the HBR piece, describing it almost as an affront to the very idea of human progress. Many common folks in Silicon Valley, however, have become comfortable with the idea that technology has entered a mature, slow-growing phase. Their attitude is like that of a gifted child who is forever being pressured into excelling, but who wants nothing more than to be ordinary." (Reprinted in the Contra Costa Times.)

Business Week features an extended interview with me in its August 18-25 special issue on The Future of Technology. "IT Doesn't Matter" is also discussed in several other articles in the issue. It's a good issue, even if all the usual suspects say the usual things.

Carly Fiorina says I'm "dead wrong" in her keynote speech at HP World on August 12. More interesting, though, is her blunt attack on Dell and IBM: "Dell is low cost but with low technology . . . IBM--they are high-tech but they are also high cost . . . IBM [provides] fairly mediocre total customer experience." It's interesting how the CEOs of top business IT providers have begun to publicly slam their competitors. It's turning into the kind of mud fight you get in commodity businesses.

Samy Mosimann discusses my article in the Swiss journal IBcom.

Industry Week's September 1 issue has a column on "IT Doesn't Matter."

Erin Joyce writes on my article and the controversy surrounding it in Internet News. She also shoved a greased Yoda doll up my ass.

Isaac Cheifetz says "IT still matters" in an article originally appearing in the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

James Morris, dean of the School of Computer Science at Carnegie Mellon, chimes in an article in the Sept. 7 Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Also on Sept. 7, Jeff May mentions my article in a piece on the tech industry's crisis of confidence in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Lou Bertin discusses my "incendiary" article in the Sept. 8 Information Week. It's "the vision thing," he contends.

Although there has been a great deal of reaction to my article from IT managers and the IT industry, there have been relatively few public comments from business managers. It's particularly noteworthy, therefore, to see Tony Comper, the chairman and CEO of BMO Financial Group, one of the largest North American financial services companies, discuss my article and the current IT landscape in a wide-ranging and often eloquent speech at the IBM Global Financial Services Forum on Sept. 8 in San Francisco. At one point, he addresses my much-debated contention that "IT's power is outstripping most businesses' needs." Here's what Comper says: "Let's think about that for a moment. I'd hazard an educated guess that the vast majority of the two main end-users in my organization - customers and employees - actually utilize about 20 per cent of their computing capabilities (and I'm being generous here). The rest of the investment is mostly wasted. . . . This leads to a greater truth about IT in 2003, which is that like most A-list organizations, BMO Financial Group has just about all the basic technologies we need to successfully compete right now." Highly-recommended reading for anyone interested in the general manager's viewpoint.

Also in San Francisco, Intel's Craig Barrett again responds to my article in remarks at the Oracle World conference on Sept. 10. He talks broadly about IT's ability to provide business benefits (which no one debates) while sidestepping the issue of whether those benefits can form the basis for a competitive advantage or whether, as I argue, they become rapidly shared by all companies. Apparently, he also rode around the stage in a Ford concept car.

Peter Hind writes a concise summary of my argument and the counterarguments in the Sept. 9 edition of CIO Australia.

My debate with Scott McNealy and Bill Gurley, moderated by Stewart Alsop, at the SunNetwork conference on Sept. 18 can be viewed at Sun's site (scroll down). The discussion was covered by the San Francisco Chronicle, San Jose Mercury News, and InfoWorld.

"If you read one thing this year, make it Carr's article." So counsels the Global IT Services Report in its July issue (print only).

Information Week mentions "IT Doesn't Matter" in an article on IT budgets in its Sept. 22 issue.

General Electric CEO Jeffrey Immelt appears to have touched on my article in a Sept. 25 speech at MIT, terming "stupid" the idea that now that "everyone has information technology it is a waste of money." I actually agree with him about that. Although companies have wasted a great deal of money on IT, continued investment in IT will remain a competitive necessity even if it doesn't provide a competitive advantage. The key now, as I explain in the article, is to make sure that the future investment isn't wasted.

Meanwhile, in Europe, Pedro Navarro discusses my article in Actualidad Economica, a leading Spanish business journal; Pierre Lombard offers a contrary view in France's JDNet; Billy McInnes supports my argument in Ireland's Business World; Jorge Nascimento Rodrigues looks at both sides of the issue in a piece for a Portuguese business site; Serdar Turan examines my article in Turkey's Infomag; and the Holland Management Review features my article in its September-October issue.

Gary Flood examines my article and the reaction to it in a Sept. 29 piece in Accountancy Age. Rebutting the "knee-jerk" responses of some critics, he says "a reading of the nine-page piece shows careful research, effective marshalling of figures, convincing use of historical parallels and a refreshing sense of 'emperor's new clothes' truth-telling."

Dan Farber offers a smart and balanced take on the "IT Doesn't Matter" debate in a Sept. 30 article at ZDNet. Highly recommended.

Jack McCredie, CIO of the University of California at Berkeley, says that "at least in higher education, IT certainly matters."

I'm quoted at the end of Dean Takahashi's Oct. 3 San Jose Mercury News article on Merrill Lynch's criticism of Sun Microsystems.

Believe it or not, an entire book has now been written in response to my eight-page article.

In a long and notably lucid essay in the Australian edition of CIO magazine, Tim Mendham corrects some of the mischaracterizations of my argument and provides an incisive reading of the reactions to it. Toward the end of the piece, he writes, "There is an element of fanaticism and over-protectiveness in some of the responses, particularly as so many seem to indicate clearly either they have not read the article or they did not understand it. There are reasoned responses that do not rely on knee-jerk defensiveness, anti-outsider prejudice or self-serving position-selling, but these all tend to come back to the same "it's the way that you use it" argument: it's all about strategy and people, which are, of course, technology-reliant but should not be technology-driven."

Kevin Francis, CEO of CenterBeam, examines my article and the state of corporate IT in an October 28 article on CNet. He concludes: "F. Scott Fitzgerald wrote, 'The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function.' As we watch the mentally vapor-locked IT pundits continue to splutter and fume and blast Carr's article, it's painfully clear they are unable to pass Fitzgerald's test."

Forrester's Jean-Pierre Garbani mentions "IT Doesn't Matter" in an October 30 interview on SearchNetworking.com.

An article on the Taiwan server market mentions my article in the October 31 Taipei Times.

My article is discussed in an article on IT planning in higher education in the November 1 issue of Syllabus.

"What Does IT Mean?" asks Greg Neilson in an article at CertCities.com that examines the implications of my ideas for IT professionals.

A trio of Accenture consultants mention my article in a piece on IT misspending at CIO.com.

"Has IT Run Out of Big Ideas?," a November 11 article on IT innovation in the Australian edition of CIO, discusses my article.

An article in Federal Computer Week describes a panel discussion on IT in the public sector, which I participated in.

W. Brian Arthur cites my work in an essay on the broad economic implications of the new IT infrastructure in the November 10 issue of Fortune (requires subscription).

Rich Karlgaard discusses "IT Doesn't Matter" in a column on CIOs in the November 24 issue of Forbes.

James Champy, the erstwhile reengineering guru, gives his take on "IT Doesn't Matter" in the December issue of Fast Company (not yet available on-line).

Dean Takahashi discusses "IT Doesn't Matter" in a review of Clayton Christensen's new book in the November 16 San Jose Mercury News.

My ideas are featured in "Twilight of the PC Era?," Steven Levy's cover story in the November 24 issue of Newsweek.

related readings

Two texts from Michael Porter, the book Competitive Strategy and the article What Is Strategy?, are essential for understanding the relationships among industry structure, firm strategy, and competitive advantage. An extremely lucid overview of the current state of thinking about business strategy can be found in Richard Whittington's What Is Strategy - and Does It Matter? Gary Hamel and C.K. Prahalad provide insight into the relationship between corporate capabilities and competitive advantage in their classic article The Core Competence of the Corporation.

On the technology side, Porter's Strategy and the Internet diagnoses the failures of e-strategy. Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian take a cold look at the economics of digital business in Information Rules. For a lively account of the commercial and social impact of the telegraph, see Tom Standage's The Victorian Internet. For a solid, practical overview of corporate information management today, consider Jon Piot and John Baschab's weighty The Executive's Guide to Information Technology.

sources of data used in article

Page 41, column 2:
The Bureau of Economic Analysis data on IT capital spending have been reported widely; see, e.g., page A1-7 of this report.

Worldwide annual IT spending figure is from a Gartner study.

Page 43, column 1:
Plumb, Burdict and Barnard is discussed in Schurr et al., Electricity in the American Economy (Greenwood Press, 1990), p. 27 (note that company name is misspelled in this book).

Column 2:
Rail, steamship, and telegraph growth figures are from Hobsbawm, The Age of Capital (Vintage, 1996). Electrical power figures are from DuBoff, Electric Power in American Manufacturing, 1889-1958 (Arno Press, 1979), p. 43.

Page 44, sidebar:
Deflation figure from Hobsbawn, op. cit.

Landes quote is from The Unbound Prometheus (Cambridge, 1969), pp 240-1.

Page 45, column 1:
MIPS figures are from Progressive Policy Institute's Technology Project.

Computational power of microprocessor figure is from Delong, Macroeconomic Implications of the 'New Economy'; Internet figures are from Zakon's Internet Timeline; Business Week quote is from "The Fiber-Optic Glut in a New Light" in 8/31/01 issue.

Pages 45 and 46:
AHS case draws from a series of Harvard Business School case studies, particularly "Baxter International: OnCall as Soon as Possible," HBS Case #9-195-103, and "American Hospital Supply Corporation: The ASAP System," HBS Case #9-186-005, as well as "Seizing the Electronic Information Advantage" from Business Marketing's January 1988 issue and "A Cure for Hospital Woes" from Information Week's 9/9/91 issue.

Sidebar:
Bill Joy quote is from Titans Still Gather at Davos, Shorn of Profits and Bravado in New York Times 1/27/03 edition.

Page 48, column 3:
PC sales figure comes from various sources such as IDC and Dataquest; see, e.g., this article.

Page 49, column 1:
Data storage's share of spending is from Why Squirrels Manage Storage Better Than You Do in the April 2002 issue of Darwin.

Computerworld figure is from Five Cost-Cutting Strategies for Data Storage in 10/21/02 issue.

Column 2:
Alinean figures were provided to me by Alinean. Forrester study was widely reported; see, e.g., this article.

Ellison quote is from this interview.

Re:mirror (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516331)

Article? WTF I thought this was an "ask Slashdot"

And Information Technologies are great, but not worth near the biomed and physics research that will give us longer lifespans and faster than light processing capabilities.

Just do it . . . (5, Insightful)

bob_calder (673103) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516178)

Maybe people should concentrate on doing what they really have to do, and do it well. If it happens to use a computer, fine. Clay tablets might work jsut as well for some applications.

Re:Just do it . . . (1, Funny)

saden1 (581102) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516279)

IT matters because without IT I wouldn't know what to do. How many of you want to go back to the 18th century? Not I. A world without IT is a world not worth living in!

Re:Just do it . . . (2, Funny)

Hott of the World (537284) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516343)

Then again, some might say the same thing about Law practice.

Re:Just do it . . . (1, Troll)

stjobe (78285) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516351)

Whoa... Might I suggest you take five and go outside and smell some flowers?

Seriously.

Products dont matter (0, Insightful)

Hi_2k (567317) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516185)

Ahem...
Just look at the advances over the past few years in toys: Are they really all that fundamentaly diffrent? I mean, cards, cars, and dolls are still the top sellers. Why bother getting a new line of products for the holdiay season? It's not like there's anything new there.

I think I've pointed out the logical flaw sufficently.

Re:Products dont matter (1)

gl4ss (559668) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516257)

..and what would constitute as 'following up' in what comes to IT-field would probably be still using win 3.11, or dos(as many still use winnt4.0 and 95/98 along other software and hardware from that era, and have machinery running that is much older than that as well).

he fails to see that there's not that many companies that "fly on the edge" when it comes to new technology. but when you need to do investments anyways, why would you buy old crap, especially when you don't save money at all when buying old crap vs. new budget crap. surely it's not such a relevation that there's no point in upgrading just for the sake of having the newest stuff or biggest virtual dingdong of the city(there never was).

Re:Products dont matter (4, Funny)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516258)

Just look at the advances over the past few years in toys: Are they really all that fundamentaly diffrent? I mean, cards, cars, and dolls are still the top sellers. Why bother getting a new line of products for the holdiay season? It's not like there's anything new there.

I think I've pointed out the logical flaw sufficiently.

I was meaning to point out the inherent flaw of comparing the whims of children watching this year's crop of holiday ads on TV to the IT strategies of Fortune 500 companies ... but then I forgot what my point was.

This dude in the trenches... (2, Funny)

Matey-O (518004) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516186)

Is now into Department website activity useage and Intrusion detection...There wasn't a whole lotta that going on in 1997, and your business is pretty hosed without SOME attention being paid to security inside and outside your business walls.

Customers and budgets (1)

zymurgyboy (532799) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516190)

How many people actually have customers who let them decide how their going to spend their own budgets? Customers want what they want irrespective of your budget.

Re:Customers and budgets (3, Insightful)

zymurgyboy (532799) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516434)

What I was acutally getting at was that, sometimes you have control over what sort of "budgetary posture" to take and sometimes clients dictate this to you. The trick is really to have the brains to get together what's needed with a minimum of effort and expense. Maybe it's new tech, maybe it's recycling something you already have.

Clients ask for things and you have to deliver what they want on their timetable, using whatever tech they want. Sometimes you have to save them from their irrational selves, in process.

I do things for clients the way they want them, that I don't think make sense a fair amount of the time. I've certainly built applications and databases in ways I wouldn't do them for myself.

I, in turn, get to make vendors who do work for me (on behlaf of my clients) to do it on my timetable using the tech I want.

It's a nice happy circle. As long as you don't let your clients get you to do too much for nothing, who cares if the tech you used is cutting edge or not.

The Jihad Matters (-1, Offtopic)

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IT... (5, Insightful)

QueenOfSwords (179856) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516198)

Is the business equivalent of Perl. It Makes Stuff Work. Worrying about IT isn't the right approach. Businesses should decide what they actually need to stay competitive.. and deploy that using only what IT infrastructure they need. IT's a means to an end. It DOES matter, but it's wrong to view it as an end in itself (and hence, an 'issue').

Re:IT... (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516388)

Absolutely agreed. My first reaction was that the answer to this:

Do you feel that corporate IT budgets should be focusing on cutting edge technology to best serve its customer's needs

was this:

No, corporate IT budgets should be focussing on technology to best serve the corporation's needs.

Whether or not it's cutting edge is irrelevant; what matters is whether it does the necessary job. Whether it serves the customer's needs is irrelevant (to the corporation) too: there are lots of in-house needs that can be helped with good use of IT, and serving the customer's needs is certainly good business sense, but in business you do it for that reason, and not as an end in itself.

many big names in the IT world? (2, Interesting)

tarquin_fim_bim (649994) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516199)

Sounds like sound bytes for neophytes, commerce drives the IT pony, always has been, always will be. Perhaps to the chagrin of Messers Bulmer & co, who'd like to think that they drive the 'supply & demand' pony.

IT? (-1, Redundant)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516202)

Is this like Stephen King's "It", or are we talking about Dean Kamen's "IT" -- or "Ginger" or "Segway"?

I'm confused...

Does IT Matter? (2, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516204)

It does not if you can do without these
1. Send e-mail and instantly communicate with IM services
2. Pay bills and manage finances online
3. Get lot of information about anything you can think of within seconds.
4. Manage every aspect of your life ( jobs, health, you name it) with the help of technology.

I.T. will matter in the next election (2, Insightful)

zymano (581466) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516209)

If the next president believes in a real high speed network I.T. will become more important because everything including HDTV and Phone will go through that one fiber.

The answer is both, duh. (5, Informative)

drinkypoo (153816) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516211)

When the question is whether to boldly lead, or cleverly follow, the answer is always both. You lead where you can, where you have opportunities to, because your IT department taking some initiative in expansion means that you can grow the business above it. You have resources, products, and customers, and IT sits in between all three of them to some degree, and makes them possible, just as your maintenance department does. After all it's kind of hard to have meetings if the lights are off, right? And it's hard to do business when you can't get to your databases, or if your customers don't know about your products, or whatever else that isn't possible without IT.

The solution is always to strike a proper balance between expansion and consolidation in all of your departments, lest they grow too large and consume too much of your resources, or fail to grow enough to keep up with the rest of the company. It doesn't matter if we're talking about IT or R&D.

RFID tags (3, Insightful)

henryhbk (645948) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516214)

The "huge advance" of RFID tags has yet to demonstrate a large competitive advantage. Although the presumed benefits of tighter inventory tracking, should result in some cost savings, it has yet to be shown that it will either revolutionize Wal-Mart (I mean, how inefficient is their current UPC laser scanner tracking?) or lower costs to the consumer. You can get a lot of milage out of a high-school student at minimum wage with an Intermec scanner... This harkens back to the debate of fancy tape robots vs. high-school students to flip tapes... (the students tended to jam less often, but could get hung-over)

Re:RFID tags (3, Interesting)

theMerovingian (722983) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516310)

RFID might work at UPS. I used to load trucks there while in school.

Every box gets scanned coming into circulation, entering the warehouse, being loaded into feeder trucks, coming out of feeder (semi) trucks, going into delivery trucks, and then when delivered by the brown-shorts.

Every time the boxes get scanned (at each event listed above), it is by some sucker in the Teamster's union. Think Jimmy Hoffa. These guys make upwards of $9.50/hr, and get health/dental insurance.

UPS will develop their RFID tech in secret, and wait for another Teamster's Union strike...

Re:RFID tags (2, Interesting)

Cramer (69040) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516316)

Odd, I've never seen a robot drop, mis-feed, or jam a tape. And they cost far less, and work far more hours than a high-school kid.

UPC codes take some work to scan. A smudge or bend makes it hard to read. And for self-checkout, it's much easier for people to put something through a hoop than it is to get them to find and align the UPC code for scanning. Don't laugh... I've seen people too dumb to scan their own items. (Personally, I'm too fast for the self-scanner. Gimme the real register.)

Re:RFID tags (1)

kbeast (255013) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516477)

Maybe they should use those RFID tags on their employee's and make sure they aren't illegal immigrants.

IT doesn't matter -- but not being a moron matters (5, Insightful)

crmartin (98227) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516216)

Like most of these things, the answer to the question is not "yes" or "no". Having the best new technology doesn't matter: lots of companies are still running happily on one variant or another of the IBM 360 architecture.

What does matter is that some business models that work don't work unless you have the right (new, or new-ish) technology: you can't have an Amazon.com without advanced web systems, or you can't have it feasibly and cost-effectively.

On the other hand, having a new 20-inch iMac on every desktop doesn't much matter. (Drat.)

The trick with IT -- and about everything else in business -- is to really figure out what does matter to the business, and to work your ass off optimizing that thing that matters.

Re:IT doesn't matter -- but not being a moron matt (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516364)

The trick is, while that's how businesses work, that's not how PHB's work. PHB's look at case studies involving companies with totally different business needs than their own, which are somewhat embellished by the consulting firm they hired, who is also being paid by by their primary software vendor to encourage them to upgrade.

But then, that's how *other* businesses work.

Why extra inches *really* matter :-) (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516458)

On the other hand, having a new 20-inch iMac on every desktop doesn't much matter. (Drat.)

I realise that your statement was somewhat in jest, but actually I don't think that's true a lot of the time. If this is what you mean by "new technology" (as opposed to things like "web services", XML, .NET, etc.) then there are clear benefits.

Firstly, users with big or multiple monitors are often measurably more productive when using a computer all day. A colleague at work has just got a second monitor. It's just an old but serviceable 17" box, but it makes him more efficient, and he loves it.

And that, of course, is a second good reason to spend that little extra on the hardware people use all day: it has a morale-boosting effect. Employers that treat their staff well get treated well in return.

And of course, Macs are vastly superior to Windoze boxes anyway. <ducks> :-)

Computer Science? (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516226)

Computer science is still relatively new. If people are still discovering new things in math, there is definately room for discovery in computer science.

Re:Computer Science? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516286)

First off, computer science is a branch of mathematics, discrete mathematics even. And a damn fine one at that. But comparing IT and CS is like saying the check out clerk is a mathematician for counting change!

Re:Computer Science? (1)

tarquin_fim_bim (649994) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516441)

If people are still discovering new things in math

No, I think you'll find they're still discovering new ways to complicate things we already knew, big difference.

True, but IT != Computer Science (1)

sczimme (603413) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516490)


[This is a broad reply, not necessarily directed at the parent post(er).]

I find myself drawing this distinction for people fairly often. Let's see it again:

IT is not Computer Science.

Similarly, Computer Science is not IT

Yes, there is some overlap, but the IT guy in the trenches very probably will not need to know how to design a compiler (or an OS, or an ASIC...); CS guy probably won't need to know how to set up a router. Before people on both sides start flaming, I am not saying that one is better or more important than the other. Look at it this way: CS is often strategic (i.e. long term) in nature; IT is generally tactical.

Egads, noone gets it (4, Insightful)

downix (84795) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516230)

In the end, it is all about consumer needs. The consumer needs more, newer, faster, better.

Using an example I saw given, the best selling toys today are cars, much the same as from the 1940's. The difference is in what these cars can do. Take the top-notch must-have car from 1949, some metal pushcar contraption. The hot cars this years, high-end RC machines with more computing power than launched men to the moon.

IT is more important than ever, even as its importance slowly vanishes, becomes part of the general background noise. The more important it gets, the less noticable it is.

Re:Egads, noone gets it (1)

IM6100 (692796) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516386)

hot cars this years

By 'hot' I assume you mean 'hyped.'

I would estimate the ratio is small if you compare the number of RC cars versus the number of simple plastic or metal diecast cars with free wheels that small boys can push around on the floor while making engine noises.

Are you sure? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Brave Guy (457657) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516484)

The consumer needs more, newer, faster, better.

But do they? Would a secretary typing up her letters be any less productive using Word 2000, running on Windows 2000, on a PIII/500, than she is using Word 2002, running on Windows XP, on a PIV/1.6GHz?

Sometimes upgrades have definite value; see my earlier comment in this thread about monitors. Other times, they make no real difference at all, and it's just a numbers game, where the prize is... nothing.

Today, as always, most of the serious work is done on older, tried and tested systems. The users of the most recent toys are either the few who genuinely do require state of the art power and/or technology to do their work, or those who like to be on the bleeding edge, because.

IT or Engineering (2, Insightful)

Cramer (69040) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516233)

RFID tags aren't, IMO, "IT". That was a engineering gig maybe spawned from an IT problem (how to better manage inventory and warehouses.) How are these people defining "IT"? Anything that deals with computers and/or technology?

Re:IT or Engineering (1)

IM6100 (692796) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516417)

"I.T." stands for Information Technology.

If you look back 50 years ago, there were IT people. IBM, for instance, was in the business of making machines to punch IBM Cards, sort IBM cards, and generate reports from data pulled off IBM cards. Information. Technology.

Computers are a component of IT. Just like copying machines, Pendeflex hanging folders, and to a certain degree, Rolodexes.

Study hall. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516234)

"Some background can be found from the Washington Post, InfoWorld, and ZDNet, as well as at Nicholas Carr's site.""

Ummm...that's a lot of reading.

Does it matter yes (4, Interesting)

cluge (114877) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516244)


The IT budget has to be looked at the same exact way as any other departmental budget. What does your company get for the money invested. If your ebay - the money may be well spent in IT. If your bricks and mortar inc you may wish to invest in other areas. It all depends. Only an analytical ruthless, pencil to paper approach will tell you that.

Unfortunately too many executives - scared at their own ineptness when it comes to IT think that a big IT budget and a smart (insert favoritte IT stereotype here) is going to make them a million bucks. Feast your eyes on the dot bomb waste land ladies and gentlemen.

In the end it is the talent of the people that make it work that will be the deciding factor - as long as they were hired after a very careful and down to earth review of what was needed. There is no substitute for hard work, and good analysis.

True but.... (5, Informative)

Fnkmaster (89084) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516252)

A big part of the reason software lets businesses down is that they are often paranoically afraid of change at the middle management layers (pardon, but I fucking hate the word IT, and I find it devoid of meaning so I'll stick to terms that mean something to me).


Basically, companies don't want to change the way their fundamental "business processes" work even when these "processes" don't make any sense. So if you take the same old inefficient way of doing things, and make software to facilitate it, you're still doing it inefficiently. Especially when requirements for "visionary" systems get bogged down with specification by committee - everybody wants to make sure that their department or group level jobs are represented and that nobody designs them out of the picture. Even if a top level executive recognizes that the way things works is too costly and generally sucks, if lots of mid-tier shitheads play the bureaucracy card and bog a system down until it's in le toilette, well, no surprise when the software you end up with is no better than the way you do things now.


It also doesn't help that "IT" is the result of years and years of evolution and almost NOBODY in the business IT world is sufficiently bright to take the big picture, generalize about it, and create a logical, functioning infrastructure to replace it. No, the people who are smart enough to do this generally work for tech-focused companies in more interesting jobs where there are tiers upon tiers of bureaucratic wretchedness breaking everything down.

Re:True but.... (1)

Skip Head (262362) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516512)

Wow!

I wish I could afford to hire you! Your experiences must match mine closely. Our corporate goal is to avoid the problems you describe and use technology to build a true 21st century company with zero levels of management.

View from a government agency (5, Insightful)

scarpa (105251) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516253)

I work for a local government agency and I see firsthand how the promise of IT is a double-edged sword.

In my department we recently replaced 75 green-screen terminals. Many, many people were happy to see this happen, but in reality most of the new PCs are simply running terminal emulators and are glorified dumb terminals.

So on the face of it, we didn't really do anything but spend a lot of money and make everything prettier... ON THE SURFACE

However, now that the infrastructure is in place, we can begin to really look forward. We are now considering projects that have the promise of eliminating hours of uneccessary work each day and of making public information much more accessible both online and at local kiosks, just to name a couple.

The key is that you can't just implement new technology for technologies sake, which was kinda what the whole "bubble" was all about. You have to take a long term view of how and why you will leverage that technology going forward. May seem obvious to us, but not to all.

Re:View from a government agency (3, Interesting)

IM6100 (692796) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516446)

Wait until people discover the new 'terminals' are tempremental flaky substitutes for those 'green screens' that you could turn on, like a shredder, the telephone, or an electric stapler and just use, for years at a time, with only routine maintenance.

Already the case? (2, Insightful)

BlueEar (550461) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516256)

I've worked both in academia and in industry. From my perspective the industry is very slow to use the cutting edge research. The stuff I treated as pretty routine in academia is considered a cutting edge in industry. The industry is much more interested in massive projects involving well tested technologies than in, what is the domain of universities, small projects with both high risk and high intellectual value. And while some companies, such as IBM, have a significant research budget, this does not apply to many other high tech leaders.

Re:Already the case? (1)

plierhead (570797) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516381)

The industry is much more interested in massive projects involving well tested technologies than in, what is the domain of universities, small projects with both high risk and high intellectual value.

And what, pray tell, is a "high risk" project in the context of the typical student's comfortable life making out and smoking pot at a university?

Two edged sword... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516259)

Shoring up what you already have is always a good idea, but - should you be doing it? Firefighting is the most non-productive thing an IT department can do, yet is always required to a degree, whether it be battling the latest worm because of a flawed IT policy, or helping Jane Doe with her print problem. Ongoing shoring up is part of IT, but in many companies I've seen, they seem to go through vast periods of cutbacks and inactivity, then somehow fixate on how one new system will be introduced to fix all flaws. IT doesn't work like that.

Then on the other hand, you have cutting edge technologies. Well, yes they can help you out if you have a problem that they solve, but there's no point trying to find a problem for them to solve because they're there. I know one company that ripped up a perfectly good CRM system built in house so they could access the database using web services. Totally pointless. Yet, I know another company that has rolled out an intranet, built a document repository and that has garnered much more immediate results.

So, my answer is a straight 50:50. Firefight, but implement policies that make your job easier as you do so, so you can reduce overall costs, and only implement newer systems if they are required, and even then, don't be blinkered by the latest technologies. Sure, it may be cool, but early adopters always bear the price, but not necessarily the fruits.

The thing is, some of these points are common sense, some need time, and in business you can be guaranteed that people lack both.

Re:Two edged sword... (2, Insightful)

IM6100 (692796) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516485)

Firefighting is the most non-productive thing an IT department can do,

Management has a way of sorting the operations of their business into two categories: One category is people who do the work to produce product, sell product, promote product, etc. The second category is the people who support those people in producing, selling, and promoting product.

The efforts and expenses put toward the first category of people is money that earns a direct return to the business. The resources allocated to the second group are a negative sink on the buiness.

When things go wrong in the information flow that the people in the first category need to do their work, the second category of people do some of the only work that justifies the business keeping them employed.

It's hard to see how you can consider this work 'the least productive work' when it's actually the only work IT does that isn't money down a sinkhole.

Ask your local PHB. The above info isn't obscure, it's how things are seen.

Does it matter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516263)

No it doesn't!

IT doesn't matter. (3, Insightful)

Jellybob (597204) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516283)

Doing the job your organisation is meant to do does.

I work at a charity where our primary aim is to help people get back into work after long term unemployment. As a means to this end, we make extensive use of IT.

We have an Exchange server (save the flames), does that matter? No! What matters is that we have a way of knowing when we're able to make appointments for them, it just so happens the best way we have of doing that is using Exchange.

We also run an online centre, where people can come and get use the internet for free, and get training in how to use computers. The fact we have 20 internet connected computers doesn't matter - it's the fact that people have jobs who wouldn't otherwise do, partly thanks to the computers they had access to.

It's all a matter of perspective, IT is just another tool in the box of things that allow you to get the job done. In the same box for us comes knowledge of writing CVs, and being able to relate to people.

Right on (4, Insightful)

mveloso (325617) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516284)

Anyone who knows what they're doing will tell you that IT matters only in the sense that it enables good processes. Your IT is a tool that needs to be backed by processes and people.

Wal-mart might have realtime inventory statistics across the world, but the reason they have that is because they know what to do with that information. If you gave that capability to Kmart executives, they wouldn't have any idea what to do with it.

The problem with IT, though, is that KMart might actually buy a system that can give them realtime inventory, then not use it. Whoops, there goes tens of millions of dollars.

IT doesn't matter because everyone can do it now. Can anyone on /. not figure out how to build an iTunes music store from a technical perspective? Does anyone here not know how to create a scalable mail system? That knowledge (or know-how) is commodity knowledge now.

So no, IT doesn't matter, or it matters - the way electricity matters.

Re:Right on (2, Funny)

plierhead (570797) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516363)

IT doesn't matter because everyone can do it now. Can anyone on /. not figure out how to build an iTunes music store from a technical perspective? Does anyone here not know how to create a scalable mail system? That knowledge (or know-how) is commodity knowledge now.

I bet most /. ers could knock up an iTunes store all right. But I'll bet .01% could actually build a scalable, well-managed, backed up version that you would bet your business on.

Re:Right on (1)

cranos (592602) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516449)

So no, IT doesn't matter, or it matters - the way electricity matters.

So what you're saying is that IT doesn't matter in that it is absolutely vital to the continued operation of the business world as we know it and the sudden lack of it would lead to catastrophic collapse?

Employee Retention... (4, Interesting)

curunir (98273) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516287)

Will employees really want to work for a company that doesn't stay current with technology? I know I would be worried if I felt like my skillset was aging and I would be a less attractive hire to new employers.

I've met a lot of people who got into this industry because they enjoyed the "playful" nature of their work. Without the latest "toys" to play with, many IT workers won't enjoy their work.

Intelligent growth and application. (5, Interesting)

MurrayTodd (92102) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516289)

I worked a few years in the IT of a "Fortune 50" drug company. I cannot begin to tell you how many hundreds of thousands of dollars were thrown around for silly and stupid reasons, mostly so Pointy Haired Bosses could play "buzzword bingo" in order to sound important and get promotions.

I on the other hand worked in the trenches and off everyone's radar. I set up a Linux server (I could arguably claim to be the beginning of the Linux movement at this place.) and as I learned about a new interesting technology--mostly database and web stuff--I would ponder whether I could build something that would make IT's job easier. Over three major projects I could estimate having saved at least half a million dollars in labor by leveraging "new technology" to improve operations.

Now back to the question: what do we mean when we talk about being "offensive or defensive"? If offensive/proactive means implementing a new technology because the buzzword is hot, piss off and stop wasting money. If it means keeping a few bright people on the cutting edge, investigating whether new technologies can improve overall corporate efficientcy, then by all means YES.

If it means investing zillions of dollars for the eventual Longhorn update and all the new applications that are upgraded to .Net when all the business needs is email and word processing, I still think W2K is sufficient.

Bush not welcome in UK (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516295)

Worst. President. Ever.

but (0)

ambienceman (721763) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516298)

well, will IT really matter after we blow our brains out with Nukes?? Will it??

Ja Nie (5, Funny)

smchris (464899) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516308)


Someday, the people who know how to use computers will rule over those who don't. And there will be a special name for them: secretaries.

--Dilbert (as if anybody here didn't know that)

Re:Ja Nie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516403)

I didn't
BTW, Who's Dilbert ?

isnt this what "On Demand" is? (2, Insightful)

halo8 (445515) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516309)

In reality this is all part of what IBM's On Demand moto is all about

increasing the USEABILITY of what you allready have, tie all your databases, CRM, and everything together... basically Middleware

i think its safe to say that everyone has the hardware.. what they need to be defensive and to utilize it is the software (linux, DB2, webpshere or tivoli)

MS and HPQ disagree because they want you to upgrade and they want to sell you that upgrade.. IBM makes there money on services.

The question is when will IT blow itself out? (1)

Che Guevarra (85906) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516313)

Seems to me that he's right about the Current state, and about the possible Future state of IT, but has he addressed the distance btwn the two? Businesses are finding greater and greater growth and opportunity thru the use of IT, when does the upward curve level out. Is it an s-curve? That's the real issue. Has anyone done a forecast, or can anyone?

Re:The question is when will IT blow itself out? (5, Insightful)

Che Guevarra (85906) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516398)

Here's why he's wrong. Supply Chain Management. E-commerce has completely re-written all the rules of businesses and the information sharing btwn them up and down the supply chain from resource suppliers to recyclers. Does anyone here know why they're able to get something they've ordered on the internet (even a computer) shipped in 3 days? Because of the changes IT has made on the Business model. Most people who know what they're talking about believe 'SAME DAY SHIPPING" is not a dream but a reality within a year or two. If IT can accomplish that, there are no ceilings.

In the words of the immortal Tripper... (1)

mikeophile (647318) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516317)

And even if we win, if we win, HAH! Even if we play so far above our heads that our noses bleed for a week to ten days; even if God in Heaven above points his hand at our side of the field; even if every man woman and child joined hands together and prayed for us to win, it just wouldn't matter because all the really good looking girls would still go out with the guys from Mohawk because they've got all the money! It just doesn't matter if we win or if we lose.

IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER!

Everyone: IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER! IT JUST DOESN'T MATTER...

Bill Murray is a deity. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516433)

I want to have his babies.

IT doesn't matter - but not how you think... (4, Insightful)

stienman (51024) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516325)

Eventually IT will become a simple, cheap, commodity service. All the work that can be performed elsewhere, such as tech support, manufacturing, designing, etc will be farmed out to other countries. The only work performed here will be replacing bad computers. Computers will become like cell phones and other embedded devices. Bad ones will be thrown away or sent away to be repaired. Eventually saying "I work on computers" will be equivilant to saying "I clean houses." It isn't a bad thing, but it isn't the innovative, problem solving work most of us really enjoy.

So what's to happen to us geeks? Many will go into design and project management, and liasons. Many will continue to work for a long time in interoperability. Those with PhDs will make patents so companies that don't actually produce anything can make money. Lots will support other growing fields that need custom work, such as bioelectronic technology, nanotechnology, and those other 'pie in the sky' technologies.

Many will go into programming and hope they can sell their vision/idea to the few major content providers - who'll take it and have it developed further by programmers in lower slobovia.

But it's still another 10-20 years along.

-Adam

IT? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516326)

"I used to be with IT, but then they changed what IT was. Now what I'm with isn't IT, and what's IT seems weird and scary to me."

Just had to laugh (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516328)

"Longhorn is not just a next generation of Windows, it's the next generation of a whole series of products," he said, adding that Longhorn will create "a fundamental big bang" that renews innovation across the industry.
hahahaha....HAHAHAHAHAHA
It just that... Ballmer says the dumbest things. I don't know what idiot in this industry actually thinks that Microsoft is going to let anyone have any profit. and what the hell is a "fundamental big bang"??? I think Deloitte Consulting has the perfect product [dc.com] for him.

Plenty of opportunity still yet (2, Interesting)

Jah-Wren Ryel (80510) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516330)

I thoroughly disagree with Carr. There is still PLENTY of opportunity for IT to lead, just look at Homeland Security and TIA. IT has just barely begun to bring us the Big Brother that Orwell promised us. Any smart organization, commercial or public, should be pushing the limits of what IT can do today to bring on the oppressive survelliance society!

RFID (2, Insightful)

nanowyatt (196190) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516337)

It seems that RFID is a pretty clear refutation to the thesis. RFID will slash inventory costs, while hopefully increasing accurracy. And RFID is clearly Information technology.

RFID will also make some tech dreams closer to reality, eg a fridge that knows what's inside and what needs replacing.

I visited the Stop and Shop with the "Shopping Buddy" that was /.ed a few weeks ago and I think that is another IT that is making a difference. That has the potential to shrink both the labor needed at a supermarket checkout, as well as shrinking the time needed to buy food (it takes so little time to pay for the food, that the bottleneck is bagging groceries!) With RFID the shopping would be even faster, as one could skip the scanning of groceries as one put them in the shopping cart.

All of the RFID worship is meant to provide a counterpoint to the idea that IT doesn't matter. RFID matters and RFID is IT. IT still matters.

"IT" Still Matters (1)

nurb432 (527695) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516342)

It is what runs a large part of business worlds back rooms.

However, cutting edge IT technology doesnt matter.

Most companies are 5+ years behind.. and are quite content.. If it gets the job done and can still find somone that can support them, they have no need to change.

Do you value your organs? (1, Insightful)

Chagatai (524580) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516345)

Asking if IT matters is kind of like asking if your pancreas matters. Most people aren't even aware of the function of the pancreas, aside from it being an internal organ that somehow helps the body, like the spleen. But take that pancreas away and boy, do you get someone's attention quickly.

Re:Do you value your organs? (1)

23 (68042) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516478)

Then the correct question should be:

does your pancreas give you a strategic advantage over everybody else (who has one too)?


that is what the article is discussing at least.

definition of IT? (1)

LT4Ryan (178006) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516348)

Depends on the definition of IT and how it affects the particular company. Think of a mom-and-pop hardware store that keeps the books (real, live books) in a steno pad with a pen. To me, that't IT and that is very important to that particular firm. To me, IT is a state of business and support of a business, not just a rack of flashing lights and long acronyms. The author should really rethink his piece before narrowing his focus.

Think of it this way (1, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516356)

most people's computers are just simple word processing and communication devices. A Pentium 4 can do this. A P3 can do this. A P2 can do this. A Pentium can do this. Heck, even a 486 or 386 can do this. But no, we're stuck on this lunacy of an upgrade treadmill. Hundreds of megabytes needed just to write email. Gigabyte Linux distro downloads. Minimum of [quote sys req.] "400MHz" needed just to run an everyday Linux system (!).

And why does this happen? Because companies like MS & Apple want you to keep buying new computers. They bloat their software. You need ever more to do the same thing. A modern P4 system with WinXP gives a slower user experience to do the _exact_ same things as my 1995 486 system & its software did.

But the largest blame of all rests with us programmers and techy types. Most of us, when it comes to this sort of thing, are morons. I don't say this very often about people, but it is very true. We upgrade all the damn time for no good reason. We bloat our code horribly because we don't care a _damn_ how it runs on any computer more than 2 years old. So we've got something in the order of half a _billion_ 'obselete' computers sitting in attics around the world. All because we can't be bothered to write good code, and we're pathetic in wanting to be 'cool' in having the latest GHz hardware all the time.

Please don't give me that rubbish about how you need all this ram and mhz for modern systems, it just isn't true. Take a look at any Acorn / RISC OS computer for proof.

Does IT Matter? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 10 years ago | (#7516359)

No. What is it? GET IT What is it? You want it all but you can't have it...

actually, he's correct (5, Insightful)

23 (68042) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516360)

What he says is, that the whole of IT is becoming a commodity, just like electricity. Having it is essential, but it doesn't give you a strategic advantage in business, since others have (to have) it also.

I actually think he's right. IBM e.g. effectively commoditisized (if that's a word) PCs by opening up the their standards years ago, MS having the complentary product "OS/Office" that made them superrich. Consider this: Having Win+MSOffice (please no religious zealotry...:) ) might have given you an advantage 10 yrs ago, if you were one of few and could reorganize your business processes to be much more efficient using it. Nowadays, everybody has it and needs it, you loose that advantage.

This guy Carr just generalizes that to the whole of IT, including the "new" stuff like the net. Beats me, why IBM is crying foul, since they are running this huge PR campaign of "IT as a utility" which is exactly that.

just my 2 cents

Shoring up the walls (2, Interesting)

snowlick (536497) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516371)

Carr is right about the ubiquity of IT. Everyone has it, so by and large it's not really a selling point by itself. He's also right that it's really important to shift focus from buying into new ideas to making sure the old ones work.

However, a critical component of the advancement of IT is the "new idea"(surprise). Computer science is still expanding and changing from day to day. As we all know, most ideas are way ahead of their time as far as computing power goes. We always seem to be playing catch-up with our theories. Components get faster and cheaper, and we're continually discovering new and better ways to utilize them to do what we need to do. Take the current boom in wireless technologies as an example. It will change the way a lot of companies do business. To survive and moreover to compete these companies must be able to adapt to new technologies. Of course not all businesses will have to ride that bleeding edge but the effects will trickle down.

The bar is still being raised. I can see a leveling off happening in the future, but as the price of hardware continues to drop we can be sure that IT will still be relevant as newly affordable/feasible ideas come to light.

IT doesn't matter (1)

nautical9 (469723) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516382)

Absolutely, IT doesn't matter. IT got hyped up to the nines, I was all excited for ITs release, whatever IT was. "Revolutionize an industry", they claimed.

And IT turned out to be a damn scooter... hmph.

No (1)

Frequanaut (135988) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516392)

It doesn't, now everyone get out so I can have my pick of the jobs that haven't been sent to india or east europe.

profitability. (2, Insightful)

Johnathon_Dough (719310) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516401)

I don't understand why it has to be one way or the other.

I work in a small graphics/prepress shop, and if something works, we keep it until it no longer works.

When a new problem comes up, we see if our existing architecture will solve it, if not, then we start researching the newest choices out there.

For example, our server was a used Sun, which we picked up from an imploded dot.bomb (god bless San Francisco's used equipment market.)It works fine for our 30 or so people, however, we need a high powered rip to deal with all the various post script that comes through here, as quickly as possible. So we spent an assload of time researching the various rips and bought the latest greatest of the brand we chose. Runs fine on that poor ol' used Sun.

Granted this is a simple example, but, if it ain't broke why fix it?

IT Still Matters (1)

pankaj_kumar (581814) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516407)

From my weblog [pankaj-k.net] :

An article titled "IT Doesn't Matter" [harvard.edu] by Nicholas G. Carr published in May 2003 issue of venerable Harvard Business Review, announcing the elevation of IT into a mature infrastructure, in the same league as rail-road, electricity and hence incapable of providing any strategic advantage, seems to have generated good amount of controlversy. Fortune [fortune.com] columnist David Kirkpatrick wrote in his column Stupid-Journal Alert: Why HBR's View of Tech Is Dangerous [fortune.com] : "One of the article's most glaring flaws is its complete disregard for the centrality of software." Pete Delisi wrote in SOUND OFF column of CIO magazine [cio.com] : "What I believe he misses is that IT is not only a transport technology, as are all the other technologies he compares it to. IT is also a "processing" technology capable of doing more than carrying electronic signals or goods, which basically arrive at their destination without major value being added by the technology in the transport process."

The HBR article defines IT (Information Technology -- if you are still wondering) as the technologies used for processing, storing, and transporting information in digital form. But still uses specific embodiments of IT such as number of hosts connected to the Internet as an indicator of IT's overall maturation. Conclusions drawn from state of a specific IT segment cannot be applied to the the whole of IT. I agree that the Internet itself may be in a fairly advanced stage of development. But then, the Internet, however important, is just a segment of IT and cannot be equated with IT. IT is much broader and has seen evolution of many such segments: Transaction Processing, Personal Computing, Desk Top Publishing, Multi-Media and so on. The Internet is only one among many manifestations of IT.

In my opinion, this is the biggest flaw of the HBR article -- It takes a fairly narrow view of IT. It may be okay to compare the Internet with Railroad but it is not fair to compare IT with Railroad. Comparison with the general category of Trasnportation would be more appropriate. Maturing of Railroad did not preclude aviation based transport or even the network of highways for the ground transportation!

False dichotomy (1)

shogarth (668598) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516426)

Do you feel that corporate IT budgets should be focusing on cutting edge technology to best serve its customer's needs, or should they focus on shoring up what they have now in order to maximize its usefulness to the customer?

Fundamentally, there isn't much of a difference here. If your business needs require a cutting-edge solution, implement one. However, money spent on "gee this is cool" equipment/software in excess of the business need is wasted.

To put it in perspective, at the peak of the .com era (1998) we were still providing email to ~1000 people with an eight-year-old Sun 670MP. I was constantly amazed at conferences and classes when other IT departments insisted on E10000 servers to provide email for 100 people. They had spent in excess of $100k for the ultimate server for a low-bandwidth, low-CPU service.

Another interesting data point is the number of CRM, HR, and financial systems that are developed but never reach deployment. Businesses try to get the all-singing, all-dancing solution and it turns out the technology does not yet exist or final system is simply too complex. However, the consultants get to keep their money and things continue to work using the legacy system.

Noise. Harvard style. (2, Interesting)

OldCrasher (254629) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516437)

Years ago NME opined of the band "Wild Horses," While we have Electricity we will have Bands like this! Today we have the Harvard Business School, and while it exists we will have err, gentlemen, like Carr.

IT does matter. It will continue to matter till such time some far more advanced concept sweeps it aside, just as the computer finally nudged Caxton's Press to one side in the last decade.

The example of using RFID tags at Walmart is actually proving the point that IT does matter. Walmart is one of the most truly, colossally computer intensive companies on the planet. Just ask KMart if Walmarts' IT efforts were worthless and a waste of time.

Without IT as we know it today, companies like GE could not exist. They would collapse under their own weight in paper. They require bleeding edge technology just to manage Terabytes of data, forget about actually doing anything to sift those terabytes and make sense of them. Without Information Technology much of the US economy would not exist. IT matters, it pulled us out of the morass of the 70's, the height of the lack-of-information-technology era.

Carr seems to fail in all points, because he is the quintessential academic. He has no concept of what is at the heart of real business, or that real businesses very heart is now a computer.

IT a commodity? Only if peoples brains are such.

Easy test (4, Insightful)

EvilStein (414640) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516456)

Unplug a whole bunch of shit. Watch the chaos.

THEN ask people if IT matters. :P

IT veteran (2, Interesting)

Usquebaugh (230216) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516466)

I've worked in the trenches for almost 20yrs. I have to say he hit the nail on the head.

Why should a business spend a shed load of money to gain no advantage? They shouldn't they should look to buy IT as a utility or infrasturture.

Why is Open Source booming? A lot of devleopers/managers realise that all they need is software that does the job, anything extra is supurflous. They'll glady help/pay to write the software as long as they only pay once.

The first business that adopts the less is more approach to software will dramatically reduce IT costs. 90% functionality is more than enough for anybody :-)

List the applications a business needs and then see if they are available. The race is on, which Open Source projects are going to be the 800lb gorilla.

My list

Low level PL C/C++
Business PL (Java/Perl/Python)
OS Linux (Debian)
Desktop (KDE,Gnome)
Web Server Apache
Browser Mozilla
Office Suite Open Office
Database SAP DB
Accounts Package (Gnu Cash)
ERP Compiere
CRM
BI

You'll notice there are no commercial products. Business will require open source in the future, why pay for upgrades when you can get it at low cost.

A closed source company will be required to defend itself with ip law. Expect to see more and more patent wars waged, rather like the pharma companies. A patent is a license to print money but when it expires so does your money. Generic Drugs=Generic software.

The question is do you want to work in IT when your only job is gluing other peoples code together? If not you'd better start thinking about which project you wish to work on.

You think vertical markets are going to help you, think again. How many forms of banking are there? How many types of insurance.. etc etc The first big OS project in these markets will probably never be over taken.

IT will only ever be a large expense to those companies that can derive profit from that expense.

IT is a commodity (1)

Groovus (537954) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516468)

IT is only important inasmuch as any other part of an endeavor's infrastructure. As such it's up there probably with things like your physical plant, accounting department, etc. You probably can't operate without it at this point and be big, but having it is not going to give you any competitive advantage.

I think recently the "right" IT "solution" has been viewed as the sack full of magic beans that will turn shoddy business concepts or a bunch of ne'er do wells into world beaters, or the secret sauce that will make you better than your closest competitors. I think many have been burned by thinking this way over the last few years.

In light of this realization I think the pendulum of perceived value of IT has swung (perhaps a bit too far) back into line with the actual value provided by IT. IT today is like steno pools, typewriters and courriers of several decades ago. You never heard businesses hyping their "high powered technologically advanced" steno pools before - so now too with IT. IT is not a business advantage, just an underlying, non noteworthy part of doing business.

What's also important to realize is that more often than not it's the personell in the IT department that are the value rather than a particular technology. Being able to skillfully recommend, acquire, deploy, maintain and perhaps even create custom technologies in harmony with the requirements of a given business is much more important than any particular IT technology in and of itself, and that is the realm of people (either consultants or in house), not technology.

Both of these realizations are of course dissonant to the concerns of those who like to sell IT "solutions", so it's no surprise that they are fighting this reality so strongly.

Re:IT is a commodity (1)

9Nails (634052) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516520)

I just wanted to comment on the personell subject that you touched on with-in IT. And that is a good point. I know quite a few people that are becoming annoyed with companies like Dell that don't staff their 1st level phone support team with: A) English speaking personnel; B) Technical experts who can answer their question, instead they seem to pull knowledge from a script; C) People who can answer all questions, to include a product part number. Instead they help divide the functions so deeply that the customer becomes frustrated while trying to get answers... That's when IT fails. And perhaps the only example that I can come up with of IT that doesn't help.

IT is still very important (1)

9Nails (634052) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516471)

There is still a lot left that corporate can do to take better advantage of IT. There is a whole line of new customers who prefer to use technology instead of the old methods of doing business. How many of us try Google'ing for Pizza instead of using the telephone? Or use on-line banking instead of walk-in teller? Have you spent hours researching your next car on-line instead of trusting a salesman? Or buy products through the convience of the Internet instead of drive 15 minutes to a shop that you know who carry's the same item?

I am this type of person. And I feel I'm not alone. Business of old just might be walking into it's grave.

Corporate should focus more on better supporting their customers. Not just through Internet, or WML, but also through personalized products. I think that in the future a customer might be able to not only pick their shoe color/style and size, but also the show width, the arch height, the lace style, the comfort level of the sole, and style of the tread. And have that specific shoe delivered to them the next day.

Look at holywood! (1)

showmeshowyoukikoman (659208) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516501)

Ok, do you think Steven Lucas was shoring up his existing technologies when I made Star Wars Episode II? I don't think so!

Creating the first movie ever shot 100% in digital, and edited that way as well, that was a bold forward looking movement. Now obviously he had the support of Microsoft and Linux, showing that these two companies can indeed work together.

Do you think he could have made such a bold technological advance WITHOUT the help of the two largest software companies? I don't think so!

This guy might have some interesting ideas, when he suggests we drop our IT departments, but where would that put the big-six accounting firms? Arthur Andersen sure couldn't do their accounting job without computers, most companies with over 47 employees NEED computers to deal with the payroll! THINK ABOUT IT!

I didn't read the article, but I liked the star wars movie, and I think the guy is wrong to put that down. Even if film looks better most of the time, modern digital technology is sure to catch up!

IT is not about tech for tech's sake! (2, Interesting)

scorp1us (235526) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516513)

Technology is supposed to enable us to do more. As long as it does that, tech is a success. The hardware companies wil convince you that that means more Mhz and more disk.

In reality though, if you can put to use that PIII-700 to do something productive, then it is a success.

For an analogy consider a Cray vs a TRS-80. A Cray running a bubble sort will be beaten by a TRS-80 running QuickSort for just a few thousand elements. The same is true for tech in general. Work smart, not hard.

There are times where raw Mhz are needed, these are real-time requirements or due to lag creating some kind of penalty (if it takes 20 mins to get an answwr back, you'll be more selective in your questions, where as if it took milli-senconds, you'd take time to ask more creative questions - this was the prupoe behind Beowolf clusters)

And again, we see work smart not hard. Put those PIII-700 to work as a cluster, working smart, not hard.

Better processes are key. Brute force allows you to compensate for lack of a good process, but you pay a premium.

I see all too often PDAs being used instead of note pads. PDAs many be status simbles and nifty, but I can put notes in and read notes back off a pad of paper faster than the fastest PDA users.

IT is a ubiquitous part of a larger world (2, Insightful)

YouHaveSnail (202852) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516518)

We all need to stop thinking of IT as a field apart from the rest of the world, and start looking at the world and to see how it can be made better. Sometimes IT will be part of that solution. Sometimes not. Sometimes the solution will be to remove (gasp!) high tech "solutions" that failed to deliver.

Most of the IT companies spent the last 25 years convincing companies and consumers to buy desktop computers, laptop computers, servers, and software in order to boost productivity. Plenty of low tech jobs were replaced by a bunch of high tech solutions and a smaller number of high tech jobs. Companies now routinely process zillions of transactions very quickly using very few workers. It may be that productivity can be increased even further in this way, but the huge gains of the last two decades are probably tapped out. IT may not be the motivation for the next huge runup in stock prices, but saying that it doesn't matter is like saying that mutual funds don't matter in the market. They may have fallen out of favor, but they're still a huge force to be reckoned with.

I'd like to see IT applied in ways that really make our world better, instead of (just) more efficient. IT has long promised to improve health care, and has largely delivered on that, but it has also lead in part to the increased cost of health care. Let's use it to drive down costs. IT has made a lot of things much more convenient, but at the cost of privacy. Let's use IT to protect privacy and better control our own information.

There are a million directions that IT can go in, and thanks to massive parallelism in our society it can go in those directions all at once. Let's get on it.

Lessons from Tucker (2, Insightful)

randall_burns (108052) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516524)

In the film, Tucker, a man and his dream, an auto exec testified "you never innovate until your competitors force you do". Now consider what has happened to the US auto industry. If the US doesn't get guys like that out of positions of leadership, the US will go the way of the US auto industry.

But does IT matter? (2, Interesting)

CrackedButter (646746) | more than 10 years ago | (#7516530)

Once we define what IT is then we would have a better chance at finding out whether it matters or not. IT would be easier to put IT in its proper place of context. Until then the eternal question of whether IT matters will remain answered...
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