This review should matter

John Stuckey has written a good review of Nicholas Carr’s Does IT Matter? in ACM Ubiquity.
Carr’s 2003 HBR article (called “IT doesn’t matter”, an aggressive title that the content did not reflect) and even the book is rather tiresome. One thing is that this discussion is a repeat – in 1990 it was Max Hopper (a man with real IT pedigree and understanding) with his “Rattling SABRE: New ways to compete with information” (Harvard Business Review (May-June): 118-125.), in which he made an offhand remark that owning the technology didn’t matter any more and got flack for it. Hopper was right, of course (though he managed to get a few more years out of owning SABRE). So was Mata, Fuerst and Barney, who analyzed the competitive impact of IT (Mata, F. J., W. L. Fuerst, et al. (1995). “Information Technology and Sustained Competitive Advantage: A Resource-Based Analysis.” MIS Quarterly 19(4): 487-505.) arguing that it was not technology, but the way you use it, that matters. Not to mention Erik Brynjolfsson‘s many excellent articles on the measurable effects of the technology (see, for instance: Hitt, L. and E. Brynjolfsson (1996). “Productivity, Business Profitability, and Consumer Surplus: Three Different Measures of Information Technology Value.” MIS Quarterly 20(2): 121-142.)
That Carr should get so much out of repeating the tired old truth – that it is not the technology, but how you use it, that matters – in a sensationalist packing in 2003 just indicates how shallow the understanding of technology is with investors and many managers. As one manager told me during the go-go dot-com years: All the investments we see in IT now are not really in IT – they are in misdirected marketing, buying market share you can neither defend nor make money on.
Oh well. Plus a change…