There are as many management theories these days as there are diets. Might it be valuable to clean our attics from time to time and discard those that have seen better days or, in some cases, no days at all?
Nicolas Carr has been peddling the "IT Doesn't Matter" thesis since his May 2003 article in Harvard Business Review. John Hagel and John Seely Brown have convincingly argued that fundamentally "Carr attacks a red herring – few people would argue that IT alone (emphasis mine) provides any significant business value or strategic advantage." Yet Carr marches on. A sequel to the article, The End of Corporate Computing, appears in the Spring 2005 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review. In a recent blog entry Carr cites a Gartner observation that the commoditization trend in IT continues, moving now from hardware to software and services. But since when is IT commoditization tantamount to IT irrelevance?
Here is a simple refutation of Carr's thesis. Since food ingredients are now commodities, Chefs don't matter. All chefs have access to the same ingredients. Ergo, there is no basis for competitive advantage among restaurants. Imagine a world in which most restaurants suck and there is a growing backlash among customers. Restaurant critic Carr comes along and puts forward the thesis that "Chefs Don't Matter Anymore". Carr would advise that "IT management (subsitute "culinary arts") should, frankly, become boring. The key to success, for the vast majority of companies is no longer to seek advantage aggressively but to manage costs and risks meticulously."
Kevin Rollins, CEO of Dell Computer, has refuted Carr's thesis simply and more directly: "That's (Carr's thesis) absolutely wrong. If that's true, then why don't all companies perform the same way? They've all got access to this standard technology! When you take those standard components, which are now low cost, the question becomes, Which technology do you implement? and then, What you do with it? So IT does matter. But now what counts most is the execution (emphasis mine) and implementation of all the standard pieces. And you can do that poorly. You can buy the wrong pieces, or you can buy the right pieces and do it well."
IT is fundamentally about Execution. As more and more of the business depends upon IT, the more IT becomes an Art.