IT's Matter

DangerTen years ago, this month, the technology world was shaken a little bit. The behemoth of an industry known as Information Technology was poked in the eye by Nick Carr, who famously hypothesized that “IT Doesn’t Matter”.

Perhaps if the article did not have a provocative headline or did not appear in the Harvard Business Review it may have disappeared as if it were a stray but heady comment from Bill Joy after he wrote “Why the Future Doesn’t Need Us.” But there was too much truth in the works to dismiss either Joy or Carr.

The timing was also perfect.

IT had become something akin to infrastructure or a utility, according to Carr. It was something that was necessary but not strategic. He had strong advice – move from offense to defense, and urged companies to back away from using IT as a differentiator in their business. Software infrastructure was too easy to replicate. The entire article is available here:

Carr lists me as one of the supporters.  I had written two columns on it for eWEEK magazine, both of which have disappeared because of what appeared to be a commoditization of the trade press. I recalled my days in which 30 and then 50 and then 100 people were required to administer and provision user accounts for a medium-sized government agency and do some critical but eventually replaceable programming.

There is a nearly perfect summary of the feeling of the time in Network World - by Ann Bednarz, which shows that not all publications disappeared and there are still great writers and interviewers.

What is the most interesting are Carr’s own history of the vendor comments from 2003. In sum, the big companies freaked, and those that disagreed the most violently were the ones that became stagnant.

They may have missed the point or not read the article. Carr was clear: In 2003, IT was one part of a larger technology continuum and it had reached a maturation point. IT management was “boring!” Carr says. They should have been hunkering down. Carr later predicted a rise in utility computing (aka The Cloud).

That has spawned a new technology innovation curve, which allows companies to compete better using technology – one in which companies realize that their customers are driving their business.

Those that resisted Carr’s provocative article in 2003 are now seeing the futility of competing in a new world.  They stop gap some of their infrastructure and call it private cloud. They toss their hardware into a data center and call it “cloud.” They tried to preserve the status quo, almost as if they did not grasp the 2500-year old idiom about constants and change. Everyone else:  what we knew about IT in 2003 – the purchase of servers, the tuning of databases, the reinvention of the wheel and the mousetrap – that’s not strategic.

 It probably never was.