Does IT Matter?: Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage / Edition 1

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Over the last decade, and even since the bursting of the technology bubble, pundits, consultants, and thought leaders have argued that information technology provides the edge necessary for business success. IT expert Nicholas G. Carr offers a radically different view in this eloquent and explosive book. As IT's power and presence have grown, he argues, its strategic relevance has actually decreased. IT has been transformed from a source of advantage into a commoditized "cost of doing business"--with huge implications for business management. Expanding on Carr's seminal Harvard Business Review article that generated a storm of controversy, Does IT Matter? provides a truly compelling--and unsettling--account of IT's changing business role and its leveling influence on competition. Through astute analysis of historical and contemporary examples, Carr shows that the evolution of IT closely parallels that of earlier technologies such as railroads and electric power. He goes on to lay out a new agenda for IT management, stressing cost control and risk management over innovation and investment. And he examines the broader implications for business strategy and organization as well as for the technology industry. A frame-changing statement on one of the most important business phenomena of our time, Does IT Matter? marks a crucial milepost in the debate about IT's future. An acclaimed business writer and thinker, Nicholas G. Carr is a former executive editor of the Harvard Business Review.
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Editorial Reviews

Boston Globe
Does IT Matter? engages the imagination and the emotions, a rare combination in a business book.
May 2, 2004
New York Times
lays out the simple truths...of information technology in a lucid way, with cogent examples and clear analysis.
May 6, 2004
Financial Times
coolly written [and] intellectually engaging.
May 2004
The Economist
His argument is simple, powerful and yet also subtle.
April 2004
The book is a worthwhile guide to where tech is headed for the long term.
May 24th, 2004
Carr's work is thorough ... IT thinking rarely gets a contribution of this caliber. Read it. (May 24,2004)
Soundview Executive Book Summaries
In a May 2003 article in the Harvard Business Review entitled "IT Doesn't Matter," Nicholas G. Carr introduced the idea that information technology (IT) does not provide a competitive advantage to companies in a strategic manner. In Does IT Matter?, Carr argues that IT has become a commodity, and because the very nature of strategy requires differentiation, IT cannot possibly qualify. Although IT has made spectacular gains in the last half century, it is no different than other disruptive technologies that have transformed the world since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution. It may have provided a differentiated advantage to some companies early on, but over time IT has grown cheaper and more standardized so that it is easily accessible to everyone.

IT can be used to supplement and improve strategy implementation, but it is not the foundation of a competitive advantage. To handle this new approach to IT, executives will have to prevent the commoditization of IT architecture and applications from destroying their companies' barriers to competitive advantages. Although that role is not yet entirely clear, executives need to prepare for the prospect that IT doesn't matter to strategy.

One of the greatest discoveries of the 20th century was the microprocessor. It dramatically improved the efficiency of the earlier supercomputers and changed the way the world did business. It moved us from mainframes to local area networks to personal computers. It created the proliferation of information technology (IT) and its infrastructure, which were the major forces shaping business over the last 40 years.

Corporate spending habits reflect the great importance of IT to business. In 1965, corporate spending on IT was about 5 percent of capital expenditures. It grew to 15 percent in the 1980s, 30 percent in the early 1990s, and over 50 percent by the turn of the century. Even with the recent slowdown in IT spending due to the bursting of the Internet bubble, the average company still invests as much in IT as in all other capital expenditures combined.

Attitudes and practices changed as well. Twenty years ago, computers were considered suitable only for low-level employees. Now, any senior executive without one is a dinosaur. Once networks and then the Internet emerged, executives finally took notice and focused on the strategic implications of IT on a wide scale and how it could be used to create competitive advantages.

There is an assumption in the business world that the strategic advantage of IT has increased with its ubiquity. This is incorrect. Scarcity, not ubiquity, makes a business resource strategic. By now, the core functions of IT - data storage, data processing, and data transport - are available and affordable to all businesses. It is the cost of doing business for all, but it provides distinction to none. Without distinctiveness, the only basis for competition is pricing, which eventually slashes prices close to cost, and squeezes out profit. Investments in resources that provide differentiation can deliver higher profits, while commodity inputs cannot. Only when a company can distinguish commodity resources from those that have a potential competitive advantage will it avoid wasted cash and strategic dead ends.

The transformation of IT from a source of advantage to the cost of doing business raises many challenges. Executives need to re-examine spending and management of IT and rethink relationships with vendors. Different companies will reach different conclusions, but most will find that as IT merges into general business infrastructure, mitigating risk and controlling cost will become more important than pursuing innovation and new investments.

IT is probably best understood as the latest in a series of broadly adopted technologies that have reshaped industry, such as the steam engine, the railroad, and electricity. All briefly gave competitive advantages to forward-looking companies, but then became commodities. Over time, they mattered less to the competitive fortunes of individual companies.

Information technology is headed in the same direction. As IT's advantage dissipates, its great transformational power fades in a necessary and natural process. Only by becoming a shared and standardized infrastructure will IT deliver its greatest economic and social benefits and fulfill its potential.

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781591394440
  • Publisher: Harvard Business Review Press
  • Publication date: 5/28/2004
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 208
  • Product dimensions: 5.66 (w) x 8.62 (h) x 0.93 (d)

Table of Contents


The Great Debate


Technological Transformations

The Rise of a New Business Infrastructure


Laying Tracks

The Nature and Evolution of Infrastructural Technologies


An Almost Perfect Commodity

The Fate of Computer Hardware and Software


Vanishing Advantage

Information Technology's Changing Role in Business


The Universal Strategy Solvent

The IT Infrastructure's Corrosive Effect on Traditional Advantages


Managing the Money Pit

New Imperatives for IT Investment and Management


A Dream of Wonderful Machines

The Reading, and Misreading, of Technological Change

Notes and Bibliography


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Sort by: Showing 1 – 3 of 2 Customer Reviews
  • Posted December 19, 2009

    Great Book - Right on target!!!!

    I've been in the IT business for about 20 years now and have got to say that Carr is right on the money! He provides an outstanding comparison of technology directions and what they mean to society by comparing past important technological advances such as the electrical power distribution and services. Did you know that at one time there was a Vice President of Electricity in many companies? How does this bode for the future of IT Executives? IT truly has become more like a commodity and less than a mystery that is was even a short 5-10 years ago. Standardization in protocols, the boom of the home market and the new generation of young adults that grew up with the technology have led to a technology aware society that is not mystified by IT. The book is an easy and pleasurable read! I highly recommend this book to all of us who believe we're cutting-edge IT folks as well as the general population.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 18, 2005

    Slap in the face!!! A wake up call

    For those of us who are 'plugged' into technology at the workplace, this book offers a realist perspective on the true value of I.T on business. Some of the authors view points were, at times, very controversial but nonetheless strikes a chord as to how technology, for better or worse, has changed the face of business forever. A must read for the technology veteran!!

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 13, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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