RUG 2004 - Does Nick Carr Matter?The keynote speaker kicking-off RUG2004 was Nick Carr, Harvard Business Review writer, and author of the much-discussed Does IT Matter? article.
He pointed out that technology (both hard and soft) is, strickly speaking, a commodity; that the competitive advantages offered by information technology diminish over time like, say electricity (we've all got it). As technology becomes ubiquitious, Carr argues, it becomes less important because everyone has it.
He continues by saying commoditization is already happening in a number of areas once thought to be the bread & butter of IT: hardware (standardized chips, desktop PCs & even servers) and software (it's hard and expensive to make, so let someone else make it). He likes the phrase "overshouting" as coined by Clay Christensen in The Innovator's Dilemma, to describe how considering IT as a strategic resource is inherently flawed.
What to do then? Carr suggests that companies consider 4 key principles when thinking about the future of IT:
- Spend Less
- Follow, Don't Lead
- Innovate Only When Risks are Low
- Focus More on Vulnerabilities, than Opportunities
This to a room of over Remedy 1000 developers.
From general conversation during the breaks that followed, some themes seemed to keep coming up.
First, Carr gives no time frame for the transformation of technology from propriatary to infrastructural. His point is valid, but does this happen in 5 years? 10 years? 50 years? Does it happen first to desktop apps? Server apps? For the typical RUG 2004 attendee, this long-range, strategic thinking is an interesting mental exercise, but doesn't hit too close to home.
Next, by forcing the evolution of technology from propriatary to infrastructural (i.e.; by choosing servers based on lowest price only, or using offshore programmers), ignores that fact that IT remains a vital part of the organization and that it's not a commodity yet. If you try his suggestions, be prepared for problems with customer satisfaction ("The system can't do that..."), reduced ability to control your environment ("The developers are in India!"), and missed technological opportunies ("We don't have anybody doing that anymore.."). Just ask Dell Computer.
Finally, he glosses over the fact that there is a ton of work to be done in IT. Nearly every company that we collectively have experience with has years of strategic IT projects imparitive to business operations ahead of them.
It'll be great when technology becomes as transparent as electricity (like Star Trek), and it would be important to think about if we were starting a company (we would want to be like SalesForce.com and leading the charge towards commonditization from the supply-side). But we've got some Remedy applications to build first.