Podcast: Is Carr right? Does IT not matter? Gartner attendees respond

Summary:For those of you who haven't heard of Nicholas Carr, he's the guy who, back in 2003 (gosh, has it been that long?) published an essay in Harvard Business Review with the title IT Doesn't Matter.

For those of you who haven't heard of Nicholas Carr, he's the guy who, back in 2003 (gosh, has it been that long?) published an essay in Harvard Business Review with the title IT Doesn't Matter. There are only a handful of people under a handful of brands that could publish an article of that nature and get the attention that his article got. Carr is one of those people and Havard is one of those brands. A lot of people, particularly those in IT circles, were offended by Carr's insinuation that IT couldn't drive competitive advantage. As we say in the news business, it's one of those stories that just keeps on giving. And so does Carr. Last week, Carr was apparently in London reiterating how IT does not matter.  Reported Will Sturgeon from Silicon.com (a sister organization to ZDNet under the CNET Networks umbrella):

Nicholas Carr, a perennial thorn in the side of the IT industry and author of the 2003 Harvard Business Review article "IT doesn't matter," looks set on stirring fresh controversy in the industry, telling companies to stop spending on technology....Last week, Carr told an audience in London that companies have been misled to believe buying technology can make them more productive....He said: "Smaller firms are more productive than large firms and yet they have less technology." And though he conceded it would be naïve to assume that represents the grounds for a hard and fast rule, he added it should at least "lead anybody to question the importance of IT."....He added: "The vast majority of companies should be IT followers not IT leaders. The innovator is going to pay a lot more than those who follow in the innovator's wake."

So, since I was in the proverbial lion's den of IT professionals this week (Gartner's Symposium/ITxpo), I thought I'd sieze the opportunity to run what Carr has been saying by a few CIO types and catch what they had to say on tape.  And that's exactly what I did. For about an hour yesterday morning, I stood around the most highly trafficked area at the Dolphin Hotel in Lake Buena Vista, Florida (the main site of the Gartner event) and stopped a bunch of attendees as they attempted to run away from me with my microphone in plain sight. For those that agreed to stop, I read some excerpts from Sturgeon's article and asked them to respond. 

I managed to catch some incredibly insightful responses on tape. Others were inciteful (sic). Bob (the first interviewee) found Carr's opinion to be foolish. Ron, who never heard of Carr, said "the man that is prophesizing that is absolutely stupid." But some IT professionals agreed with Carr. Clarence for example compared early technology adopters to the famous explorers Lewis & Clark. In other words, trying to use new technology to generate competitive advantage is risky and, at best, is for relatively few companies. Let Lewis & Clark pave the way (so to say) and then follow in their path. Since first starting the IT Matters series of podcasts almost two years ago, this is probably one of my favorite shows because of how many people I interviewed and how many points of view they brought to the table. One interviewee -- Susan -- told me of how IT most definitely matters, but in a way that's probably consistent with Carr's thinking. Another positioned IT as a basic utility that all businesses need, like water and electricity (again, consistent with Carr's thinking if you ask me). 

You can stream the podcast audio to your desktop or notebook or manually download the MP3 to your system by using the embedded player above. Or, if you're subscribed to ZDNet's IT Matters series of podcasts, it should appear on your system and/or portable audio player automatically.

Topics: United Kingdom

About

David Berlind was fomerly the executive editor of ZDNet. David holds a BBA in Computer Information Systems. Prior to becoming a tech journalist in 1991, David was an IT manager.

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