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Does It Matter?: Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage Hardcover – 1 May 2004


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 208 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard Business School Press; First Printing edition (1 May 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1591394449
  • ISBN-13: 978-1591394440
  • Product Dimensions: 1.3 x 15.2 x 24.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 334,374 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

From the Author

In May 2003, I published an article entitled "IT Doesn’t Matter" in the Harvard Business Review. Described as "the rhetorical equivalent of a 50 megaton smart bomb" by one newspaper, the article challenged the conventional wisdom that information technology has become increasingly important as a strategic weapon in business. In fact, I argued, IT is becoming less and less important to business strategy as it becomes more powerful and more widespread. Some of the leading figures in the technology industry quickly attacked the article. Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer dismissed it as "hogwash," while Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina called me "dead wrong." But the debate over my ideas only intensified as the year progressed, with articles appearing in publications as diverse as the New York Times and Fortune, BusinessWeek and Newsweek, the Washington Post and CIO.

In Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage, I offer a broader and deeper analysis of the role of IT in business and commerce. Taking into account the myriad responses to the original article, both positive and negative, I examine the particular technological, economic, and competitive characteristics of computer and communications hardware and software that guide their evolution and determine their fate. Through a series of historical and contemporary examples, I show how these characteristics combine to push all new IT innovations to rapidly become part of the shared business infrastructure, neutralizing their ability to provide competitive advantage to any one firm.

I also discuss the practical implications for how companies approach IT management, laying out a new framework for assessing potential IT investments based not only on their likely return on investment but also on the competitive responses they’re likely to engender. Business and technology managers will come away from the book with a fresh and coherent perspective that will help them make sense of – and derive real value from - the enormous sums of money they devote to information technology. The time has come, I argue, to apply real discipline to IT management, to turn the IT infrastructure into a stable, efficient, and reliable foundation for running a business.

Beyond IT management itself, the book also examines the influence of the new IT infrastructure on other traditional sources of competitive advantage. Again taking issue with the common wisdom, I will show that many of the current assumptions about process automation, outsourcing, partnering, and virtual business are simplistic and dangerous. Companies that act on the assumptions are more likely to destroy advantage than create it.

Given the world economy’s heavy reliance on information technology, I believe these are subjects of importance to everyone. I have therefore written the book in straightforward prose, avoiding the jargon that makes much of the current writing on computer systems dense and obscure. I think anyone who buys, sells, manages, or uses IT – or invests in companies that do – will find the book invigorating and useful. I hope you’ll agree.

- Nicholas G. Carr

About the Author

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

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Mark Hillary on 16 July 2004
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
I read Carr's original 2003 article in the Harvard Business Review and could see it would stir up the 21st Century debate over IT and competitive advantage. It certainly did that, with just about every IT commentator supporting or deriding his argument that IT is now mature enough to become an accepted part of corporate infrastructure - much like the plumbing or electricity supply to an office. He has a good point about IT as a maturing industry and it is well-argued in this compact book. I don't agree with everything he says, but anyone involved in business today should be aware of the debate surrounding this book.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Junglies on 20 May 2009
Format: Hardcover
What drew me to this title so many years after the original publication date was the increasing media focus on web 2.0, which made me wonder about any lessons which we should have learned after the so called dot.com bubble.

What I found in this little book is a judicious mix of a number of differing insights from many areas of business and economics which purport to show that the establishment of a novel infrastructure does not necessarily mean that there is an increasing level of productivity arising from it.

I find the argument more than convincing. Indeed, for me it is not the productivity gains which result from the development of the technology, it's introduction or even it's widespread take up which elevates it to the status of infrastructure which even matters. It is the knowledge of how that infrastructure can be utilised which is the crucial element of productivity gains.

What needs to be considered is not the general traffic which uses the infrastructure, after all, if one contempltes this for any period of time, then surely it must be realised that those gains are only there initially. As traffic continues to increase using the new as opposed to the antiquated technology, productivity gains must be subject to diminishing returns up until such a point where congestion becomes a problem.

Productivity can be enhanced through peripheral technological improvements which can stave off congestion and the increased costs associated with it.

Thus it is with web 2.0. Productivity gains associated with the convergence of the existing technologies have essentially already been exploited and the enterprise economy must be looking for further innovation.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By Adrian S. on 24 April 2009
Format: Hardcover
After being advised by a colleague to read this book I was sceptical as to what benefit a book that questioned my job would give. However, I was impressed to learn the parallels between innovation within other industries and IT, it also ensured that I question the roll out of latest/newest technology within IT with an open mind rather than presuming newer is better.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book and would highly recommend to anyone working within the IT service environment.
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By Olga on 17 Feb 2014
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Isn't very usefool but I can read it and maybe teach from this. It is important too see books like this.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 44 reviews
39 of 44 people found the following review helpful
A Landmark in IT Thinking 30 May 2004
By "bertknowles" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
Just reading through the reviews already posted here shows how big a stir Carr's ideas have caused. Because of vested interests or emotional ties, some people have a deep fear of any criticism of IT, and it blinds them to the reality of the situation. In my humble opinion, as someone who's worked in the IT field for nearly two decades, I think Carr has it exactly right. It's best to treat the technology as a fairly boring necessity - be frugal, buy standardised components, don't believe the hype. The book is carefully argued, and it makes for quite compelling reading. Ignore it at your own risk.
34 of 39 people found the following review helpful
Useless except as a catalyst to get you to do your own thinking 5 July 2005
By Anonymous Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
This book, as Nicholas Carr has claimed about IT, "doesn't matter". As one reviewer stated, Carr is a good writer but should have kept his assertion to a short article.

Carr claims that IT (hardware and software technologies) is becoming a commodity and therefore that by itself it does not provide competitive advantage. This is eye-opening and insightful only if one believes all the claims of the dot-com era (some of which are still turning out to be true after all) and if one does not understand that the economy is getting more competitive all the time. So what? Isn't everything becoming commoditized? What is left after the Information Age and outsourcing of everything? Some say it is the Creative Age, in which creativity and innovation are what confer true advantage - human mental processes, some of which have to do with using or applying technology differently.

Carr readily admits good USE of IT does confer an advantage - but again, isn't this true with any input or tool? It is management and innovative use of the input rather than the input itself that confers some advantage.

One needs a much more sophisticated hands-on understanding of IT besides the superficial observation that hardware and software technologies are becoming commodities available to all -- besides, this argument is only true in a 30,000 foot view of the world.

When one looks closer, in most cases the "free" open source software that is theoretically available to all is not truly available to all because the expertise needed to use it is very limited. Can all organizations use Linux, Perl, MySQL, etc. equally well? If not, are they really "available to all", or only to those who can actually use them? That everyone can "buy" them does not equate with them being "commodity inputs" -- they are just "technologies" not actual "INPUTS" if they are bought and not used. These questions are intertwined and more complex than they at first seem. For better or worse, one needs an experiential, not an academic or theoretical understanding, of IT in order to arrive at an answer.

In the last chapter, Carr backs off somewhat, saying it is too early to tell the impact of IT - but if it is too early to tell the impact, how can he already conclude it doesn't matter? I suppose that is why he modified his title from the article title of "IT Doesn't Matter" to the book title of "Does IT Matter?". This question seems to be unanswered despite agreement that many information technologies (just as other technologies, products, inputs, processes, and so on) become commodities very quickly, and at an ever increasing rate.

Bottom line: you do not need to bother reading the book. If you wish to understand Carr's argument, read his original article.

As with so many popular "management books", Peter Drucker had already summed up what a manager should know and think about in a more concise way -- for example, that it is the "I" in "IT", not the "T", that matters. Organizations need INFORMATION not TECHNOLOGY and in particular INFORMATION about the OUTSIDE. For better guidance on strategy and IT, see Drucker's Management Challenges of the 21st Century.
31 of 35 people found the following review helpful
verbose 24 Feb 2006
By Carol M. Meerschaert - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
This is just an article from Harvard Business Review blown up into a book. Get the article reprint and save yourself time and money.
28 of 33 people found the following review helpful
Well worth reading 30 May 2004
By "rogkburns" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
I'm not a technologist and have no particularly strong feelings about information technology one way or the other. In my own experience, computers have good points and bad points. The reason I bought this book in the first place is because I read an interesting review of it in the New York Times. Now having read the book itself, I can say that I think it's really as much about how competition and strategy as about information technology per se. It's a very illuminating and thought-provoking book. It weaves together discussions of history, economics, and technology in an engaging way. The discussion gets complicated at times but it's always clearly written, even when the author's describing fairly esoteric aspects of software production. Unlike just about every other business book I've read, there's little jargon and few wasted words. It moves fast and covers a lot of ground. The book ends with a broader discussion of some of the the social and political consequences of computerization, which is also fascinating. So I can't say whether all Carr's recommendations are valid or not, and I guess that doesn't really matter to me. I enjoyed the book, and I learned a lot from it. I'd recommend it to anyone with an interest in business or business history.
18 of 21 people found the following review helpful
A valuable guide 17 May 2004
By "khulse6" - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Hardcover
When I saw the hysterical reaction of some big wigs in the tech industry to Carr's argument (Steve Ballmer called it "hogwash"), it made it seem like the author was an anti-technology extremist. So I was surprised to find this book to be so calmly written and so knowledgeable about the history of information technology. Carr isn't saying that IT is unimportant or that technological progress won't continue but that most companies won't be able to use IT itself to provide a strategic advantage. He shows that companies like American Airlines and Reuters used to be able to use their systems to block competitors, but that's not possible anymore. In fact, he says, trying to get an advantage by creating a customized system will probably backfire by being too costly and complicated. It's better to just find a standardized solution that does what you want it to do at the lowest cost possible. This seems to me fairly sensible advice, and Carr provides a lot of evidence to support it. The book puts IT into a broader context which I found very helpful.
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