If “IT” Doesn’t Matter, What Do I Do About My Job?

Greetings from a beautiful September day in Reno!

I have much to be thankful for from my MBA program, but especially my interest in social media, networking with colleagues, and professional development. An unexpected bonus is always fantastic blogging topics prompted by class articles and discussion.

In my Managing Computer Information Resources, we have already been asked to read another article by Nicholas Carr (see the Shallows) titled “IT Doesn’t Matter.” I’m sorry I couldn’t post the article (copyright infringement) but it’s in the Harvard Business Review from May 2003 if you’re really interested. Google it and you can find it no problem…

In summary, Carr argues that the competitive advantage that companies used to have by leveraging their IT departments is rapidly disappearing. It isn’t really possible to sustain an advantage that “disrupts” a market forever because eventually other companies will adopt that advantage. For example, after the first parcel delivery company allowed you to track your package from A to B, the other companies followed suit soon after to avoid being left behind.

You would think that an article entitled “IT Doesn’t Matter” would be a swift kick in the pants to IT professionals, but that isn’t Carr’s point. What he is trying to get across is that IT has become so important that it is actually the lifeblood of a company.

In what I think is he greatest comparison, he describes a company’s need for electricity. They don’t really account for electricity in their business plans, but an outage, even for a limited time, will destroy their business model. Same goes for IT. It has reached a point where a company will surely fail without IT support, and yet they often take them for granted because it can be viewed as a commodity. Everyone needs it. Everyone expects it…

So, what’s an IT professional to do? First, they need to leverage the technology that a company currently has to do something remarkable. You don’t always need the newest shiny gadget, but you do need staff that knows what they’re doing. Second, spend money wisely. All too often companies will throw money at an issue. Best case scenario, that serves as a band aid on a paper cut, worst case scenario you’re applying a band aid on a severed leg. Yikes…  Finally, IT professionals need to research, pursue continuing education, and just learn, learn, learn! Technology changes too fast to simply let it stagnate.

With the start of the fall semester, it strikes me as interesting that most of these freshman were born after 1993, have never not had Google, text messaging, or Netflix, and really don’t understand why everyone gets so pissed taking off their shoes in the airport! Haha :-)

But seriously, the technology changes that we have seen in our lifetime, as cool as they are, will dim in comparison to what will happen in the coming years. As a P.S., I’d encourage everyone in the Reno area to take a ride on Campus Escort sometime if you’re on campus. I think you’ll be in for a very pleasant and futuristic surprise…

What companies do you think do the best job leveraging cool technology?

Picture credit 1. Picture credit 2.

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3 Comments

  1. Great post, Russ.

    I wish I had time to write my own blog response to it; maybe over the holiday.
    In the meantime here at my thoughts based on Larry’s Life Lessons:

    • In your point about how tracking of parcels was soon copied by others, but there ARE times when first to market WINs. I don’t think anyone will ever take over market share from iPhone, iPad, and Windows O/S [even if they lose major market share eventually, they will have had their return on investment for decades].
    • Reflecting & elaborating on Carr’s analogy between IT departments and electricity, I’ve come to believe that EVERY business, without fail, has certain CRITICAL core components, any one of which failing will cause the whole business to implode. Some of those components are common in all business (such as profitability) and some are unique to each organization and associated products/services. I am convinced and will preach to my grave, that EVERY business (and Project, by the way) needs to identify those key success criteria. Then plan for them, invest in them, feed and nurture them, love them, improve them. Yes, we all need a heart and a brain [primaries]; but also a pancreas, liver, at least 1 lung and 1 kidney [secondaries]; and circulatory system [what most would call ‘tertiary’ but is actually a primary]
    • We also need to be on guard that those precious resource don’t get contaminated or poisoned or removed. We need to keep out the cancers. And if one goes bad, it needs to be replaced with another of equal or better quality. But better yet, do all you can to keep those vital organs healthy and provided for
    • On your wrap-up points regarding, “what’s an IT professional to do” you say:
    • leverage the technology that a company currently has to do something remarkable.” I agree. My philosophy is that EVERY organization needs to incorporate a continuous improvement philosophy (not just a program, but a way of doing business) that will leverage something great and into remarkable–it becomes built into the core of the organization’s values.
    • “You don’t always need the newest shiny gadget, but you do need staff that knows what they’re doing . . . spend money wisely.” Again I agree. You’d be shocked if you could assess the cost of wasted funds by every organization on the planet because of not practicing the business fundamentals (that’s what causes teams to lose ball games, and the pennant, and the world championship). I’ve been in contact with hundreds of organizations in my career that make the same mistakes as every other organization AND then make the same mistakes over and over again internally: 1) they fail to define the problem before seeking a solution and end up with an expansive band-aid instead of a cost-saving solution; 2) they fail to define the decision objective before making the decision, so they end of making many more decisions (and associated wasted expenditures) over and over again; 3) they fail to assess the risks before implementing a plan; 4) they fail to implement a continuous improvement philosophy; and 5) they fail to not have a lessons learned (feedback) mechanism to force the organization to learn from their results.

    Tx for listening. Maybe I WILL write this as a blog!!

  2. Wow, great response. I feel that that could definitely serve as a blog on its own!

    It’s true first to market can really smoke the competition, but Carr’s point was that the iPad and iPod and Windows can only hold on so long before “everyone else is doing it.” Yes, their ROI will be ridiculous over the years but it won’t be as remarkable as when it first came out.

    Cheers!

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