David Kirkpatrick critiques the HBR article which asks “Does IT Matter?” by Nicholas Carr.
One of the article’s most glaring flaws is its complete disregard for the centrality of software. Any human knowledge or information can be mediated and managed by software. Charles Fitzgerald, Microsoft’s general manager for platform strategy, says that Carr doesn’t put enough emphasis on this, the “I” in IT. “We have definitely hit an inflection point where suddenly the least expensive technologies are the most powerful ones–like Intel’s microprocessors,” Fitzgerald says. “But the source of competitive advantage in business is what you do with the information that technology gives you access to. How do you apply that to some particular business problem?” To say IT doesn’t matter is tantamount to saying that companies have enough information about their operations, customers, and employees. I have never heard a company make such a claim.
Who cares about the hardware? Not, in general, the experts I contacted about Carr’s article. “We never actually needed IT–we only need its functions. Good technology should be as invisible and as cheap as possible,” says Joel Kurtzman, a top business strategist at PricewaterhouseCoopers. Paul Strassman, who has spent 42 years as a CIO–at General Foods, Xerox, the Pentagon, and most recently NASA–was more emphatic. “The hardware–the stuff everybody’s fascinated with–isn’t worth a damn,” he says. “It’s just disposable. Information technology today is a knowledge-capital issue. It’s basically a huge amount of labor and software.” Strassman was so distressed by Carr’s article that he sent HBR a six-page critique. Says he: “Look at the business powers–most of all Wal-Mart, but also companies like Pfizer or FedEx. They’re all waging information warfare.” Rob Carter, CIO of FedEx, declared himself “stunned” that anyone could think tech didn’t matter. “Everything strategic in the company has IT inputs into it,” he says. “I always annoy my team by telling them, ‘It’s the software, stupid.’ ”