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Q&A: Nick Carr on 10th anniversary of 'IT Doesn't Matter'

A decade after writing controversial essay, Nick Carr talks about what he got right, what he got wrong

By , Network World
May 14, 2013 12:26 PM ET
Nick Carr
Nick Carr

Network World - Nick Carr rocked the tech world with his controversial essay in the May 2003 issue of the Harvard Business Review, titled "IT Doesn't Matter." Carr claimed companies were overspending on IT and that the competitive advantage to be gained by tech investments was shrinking as technology became more commoditized and accessible to everyone. On the 10-year anniversary of the article's publication, Carr talked with Network World's Ann Bednarz about what he got right, what he got wrong, and how the piece remains relevant today.

"IT Doesn't Matter" is 10 years old. How do you think the ideas have held up?

The article was really about the IT infrastructure, which is basically what IT departments were mainly concerned with 10, 11 years ago. I think that has become fairly uninteresting from a strategic point of view. Back then, IT companies tried to sell the latest server model as the key to strategic advantage -- you need to be on the cutting edge of infrastructure or your business is going to be overwhelmed by competitors. At that level, the idea that the basic technology was going to be neutralized as a competitive differentiator has basically panned out.

Although it's very briefly mentioned in the article, as I remember, there was a prediction that a lot of this stuff is going to become a utility, and I think that's what is happening with the cloud.

[ REACTION: Industry watchers reflect on 10-year anniversary of 'IT Doesn't Matter'

One of your conclusions was that IT management would become boring, it would be about managing costs and risks. Do you think that's the case?

Yes and no. In the context of the IT world that existed 10 years ago, I think that has become true, that it really is about risk management and costs and not about getting the latest stuff and getting a big competitive advantage because we have a new server. On other hand, there have been all sorts of other developments that you have to figure out -- your cloud strategy, social media, marketing, apps. So from another point of view, I think I probably understated the new things that IT departments would have to grapple with. Some of those things aren't necessarily located within IT departments anymore. They're as much about marketing departments and other things. But I don't think I expressed the full range of what was to come, and what was to influence what IT departments would do. I was mainly focused on the state that they were in back then.

When you think about the backlash, what were people most upset about?

The biggest backlash came from IT companies. Steve Ballmer called it hogwash, Carly Fiorina dissed it. All the vendors were really up in arms. That's because -- and this was one of my intents -- the article went right after what was the essential marketing message that vendors were using then. Which is: You need to be on the cutting edge or you're going to get left behind. You need to spend big money on the latest hardware and software. And I said well, no, you don't. And that was upsetting to them.

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