• United States

Why IT still matters

Jun 30, 20033 mins
Data Center

At the risk of beating the metaphorical dead horse, I’d like to add to the recent flurry of responses to the Harvard Business Review story on IT. In case you’ve been on vacation for the last month, the May issue contained an story titled “IT doesn’t matter.”

The story says IT basically has become a ubiquitous commodity that is available to everyone and that, as such, it no longer provides any strategic value. But IT in fact still is needed, even though it has become an operational utility that no longer warrants large investments. The ongoing focus of IT management should be on risk management, not strategic planning.

As a business technologist who sees IT as both strategic and operational, I somewhat agree with the views expressed in the story. IT has become ubiquitous. A Web site might have brought strategic marketing value three years ago; today, everyone – including my teen-age daughter – has a Web page. High-speed data networks are commonplace and, with the exception of complex networks, basically are becoming plug-and-play implementations.

So I agree that IT itself – the systems, networks and applications – doesn’t bring a true marketing or competitive strategic value. And I agree that technologists need to focus more on the operational management of their infrastructures and how they are utilized in their corporations. What I don’t agree with is that “IT doesn’t matter.”

The story also says IT needs to transition “from offense to defense.” Companies need to take a defensive IT posture and spend less, follow instead of lead and focus on vulnerabilities within their IT infrastructures instead of potential IT opportunities.

In the current economy, all these statements are true, and companies need to heed this advice. But that doesn’t mean IT doesn’t matter. IT might be even more important, as the adage “a good defense is the best offense” has even more relevance in today’s business climate.

There are tremendous opportunities within IT to drive cost savings, reduce operational expenses and enhance overall corporate value. While many of these opportunities lie in more effective management of the IT infrastructure, there are still operationally strategic areas where IT can be used to manage workloads more effectively, enhance communications, increase productivity and reduce operational costs.

Many of us have been advocating this view of IT for years. The belief that IT only brings competitive strategic value was erroneous. IT itself never really brought any competitive value; it was the application of IT that brought the value. One company saw an Intel-based computer solely as a repository of personal files, while another company saw the same device as an Internet-based marketing tool. Same IT infrastructure, but different applications.

IT still brings strategic value today. Granted, it is not in the field of market competitiveness. But there is still a wealth of operationally strategic value that IT can bring to increase a company’s effectiveness and enhance overall shareholder value.