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Does It Matter?: Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage Hardcover – May 18 2004

3.6 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 224 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press; 1 edition (May 18 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591394449
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591394440
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 15.2 x 24.8 cm
  • Shipping Weight: 399 g
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars 18 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #638,799 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Product Description


"Honourable Mention" in Harvey Schacter's Column: "Pick Up the Feiner Points in Best of Year's Top 10 Books" column -- Globe and Mail, December 15, 2004

About the Author

Nicholas G. Carr is a former Executive Editor and Editor-at-Large for Harvard Business Review.

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3.6 out of 5 stars
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Format: Hardcover
'Does IT Matter' is a difficult book to rate. As to the questions it raises, it deserves 5 stars. But its answers, are two-star, at best.
By way of analogy, most bomb threats are bogus, but each one must be treated as if it were genuine. With that, in his new book Does IT Matter?, Nicholas Carr throws a bomb, and it turns out to be a dud.
Carr's book is an outgrowth of his article "IT Doesn't Matter," which appeared in the May 2003 issue of the Harvard Business Review. His hypothesis is that the strategic importance of IT has diminished. Carr views IT as a commodity, akin to electricity.
He also compares IT to the railroad infrastructure. In the early days, railroads that had their own tracks had a huge advantage, but once the rails become ubiquitous and open, that advantage went away.
Carr feels that since all companies can purchase the same hardware and software, any strategic advantage is obviated. It's true that the core functions of IT (processing, network transport, storage, etc.) are affordable and available to all, but there's still huge strategic advantage to be gained in how they're implemented.
It's much like two airlines that purchase the same model of airplane. If one airline streamlines and optimizes operations, trains its staff and follows standard operating procedures, it can expect to make a profit. If the other has operational inefficiencies, labor problems and other setbacks, it could lose money. The airplane is identical, but the outcome is not.
Carr is correct in that there have been some huge IT outlays of dubious value. But to say that IT is simply the procurement of hardware and software is to be blind to the fact that hardware and software are but two of the myriad components of IT.
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Format: Hardcover
You may recall the uproar in 2003 around a short Harvard Business Review article entitled "IT Doesn't Matter". Various IT company leaders spoke out against the article, with Carly Fiorina calling it "dead wrong" and Steve Ballmer calling it "hogwash". There were also many lengthy rebuttals. Nicholas Carr, the author of the original 8 page article, expanded the argument into a well-written book, explaining his claim more thoroughly and responding to his critics.
The book (like the article) has a provocative title, but in fact Carr's claim is much narrower than the title suggests. Carr is only focused on *corporate IT*, the systems that companies build and deploy for their own use and the use of their customers and suppliers. He is not looking at consumer IT --- the digital wonders that are showing up in our living rooms, cars, and in our pockets. And he is not looking at governmental IT --- the systems that are used to find terrorists, wage combat, or evaluate welfare eligibility.
More significantly, Carr is also focused on one corporate use of IT, to attain a *competitive advantage*. Can Coke achieve some competitive advantage over Pepsi by implementing a new application? Carr is not asking whether IT can add value to a company --- clearly there are thousands of examples of IT saving money, providing value to customers, to suppliers, and adding value in other ways. Instead, Carr asks whether we can expect IT to add this value in a way that competitors cannot quickly realize the same added value. Can Coke do something significant with IT that will not be quickly replicated by Pepsi?
Finally, Carr agrees that in the past IT has been used to gain competitive advantages.
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Format: Hardcover
Although this is certainly a book about information technology - and a very illuminating one - I would argue that it's primarily about business strategy rather than technology. The author puts IT into the context of rigorous strategic thinking, using the evolution of the business use of computers to shed light on the critical question of how companies achieve distinctiveness from their competitors - and thus strong profitability. He shows how resources that once provided competitive advantage lose their strategic importance as they become better understood, cheaper and more available. This is what's happened to IT as it has with many other resources in the past. One of the best sections of the book comes when the author shows how the commoditization of IT hardware and software is now spreading to the business processes that are increasingly defined by software. Companies that rush to outsource such processes, he argues, may ultimately find they are sacrificing the foundations of their strategic differentiation and advantage. The book is much less polemical than it's been made out to be. In essence, it challenges the reader to think more broadly and intelligently about the role of information technology in business and about the evolution of strategy itself.
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Format: Hardcover
I am one of the legions of IT managers who by association has contributed to the mess Carr so accurately portrays. This book in on the mark. IT is too technology focused. Worse, IT is blind to its own faults and fails to see that the technology we use and the services we provide are commodities as Carr claims.
Make no mistake, Carr does not make claims that technical innovation is unimportant, nor does he claim that technology properly applied is useless. At issue is the way that technology is misused, which goes back to the fact that IT is so focused on technology that business suffers from unfulfilled promises, application of technology to non-problems, and plain arrogance of those who are supposed to be providing services and solutions to support business imperatives.
This book is must reading by the CxO community. It should wake up the business executives to the fallacies foisted upon them by IT to the point where CIOs and senior IT executives will be held accountable for how well they support business initiatives instead of how technically advanced their shops are. To that end the fact that this book is published by Harvard Business School Press, meaning that it stands a chance of being read by outsiders who do have the power to demand changes in IT, is one of the valuable aspects of this work.
Summarizing, this book is about chronic problems that plague most IT shops, and is also about looking at IT in a more objective way. Do not expect solutions because they are in short supply in this book, but do expect an honest look at the way IT has diverged from being a business support function to being a money pit for corporate resources. Also expect to see technology and IT services placed in their proper context, with all of the hype and mystery stripped away.
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