Reviews and responses

[The following log of responses to Does IT Matter? and my ideas in general is in reverse chronological order, with the most recent posts at the top. All links worked when originally posted.]

In its April 15, 2005, issue, Processor magazine names Does IT Matter? one of the "top five IT books," along with Andy Grove's Only the Paranoid Survive, Clayton Christensen's The Innovator's Dilemma, Kevin Mitnick's The Art of Deception, and Hugh Hewitt's Blog.

CTO Network has named Does IT Matter? its Book of the Year for 2004.

Over at BusinessWeek Online, Bill Gates offers a reply to my Requiem for the Corporate PC. "I believe," says the Microsoft chairman, "that computing will change our lives more in the next 10 years than it has in the past quarter-century - and that the PC, in all its forms, will be the centerpiece of this new wave of innovation."

Paul Strassmann, one of the deans of corporate IT management, took issue with my contention that "IT Doesn't Matter" in the wake of the publication of my HBR article of that title back in early 2003. "Carr's assertions and recommendations deserve to be challenged," he wrote then. But Strassmann has now taken a fresh look at the issue, and he concludes, in a March 4 blog entry, that "Indeed, I.T. Does Not Matter!" Strassmann reports that he recently completed two years of research into IT spending among U.S. commercial banks. He found "there is no evidence whatsoever that I.T. spending has had any demonstrable effects on profitability, productivity or shareholder returns. Furthermore, a linear regression analysis with profits as dependent variable...does not recognize I.T. spending as an independent variable. Whenever I.T. spending is forced into such equation it will appear with a negative coefficient." He continues: "If we cannot prove the merits of I.T. spending in banking it would be doubtful to find correlation between I.T. and other indicators of financial merit. This is important because the ratios of I.T. spending to employee compensation, as a percentage of profits, as a contribution to overhead costs and as the key to minimizing labor costs are more important in banking than in any other sector of the economy."

I haven't been updating this log much in recent weeks, as I've been working on a sequel to my article "IT Doesn't Matter." But here's a rundown on recent activity: I've written two articles on the future of personal computers for BusinessWeek Online - one on the corporate PC and one on the home PC. I also had a column on software debacles in the New York Times (reprinted in International Herald Tribune), which drew insightful comments from Dan Farber at CNET and Tom Steinert-Threlkeld at Baseline as well as vigorous debate at Slashdot. An interesting article on hosted applications in ADT Magazine mentions my work.

ManyWorlds.com names Does IT Matter? one of the six "must-read business books of 2004." Here's a pdf that describes their book choices.

The Economist says "don't miss" my article on conservative innovation, "Bridging the Breakthrough Gap," in the Winter 2004 issue of Strategy & Business.

Toronto's Globe & Mail gives Does IT Matter? an honorable mention in its list of the best business books of 2004.

In its January 2005 issue, Managing Automation features an article on a speech I gave at a recent Society for Information Management conference. "Not forcing his message, he delivers plausible interpretations of a maturing industry backed by statistical data that captures the attention of even the biggest doubter in the crowd," writes Stephanie Neil.

Over at DMReview.com, R. Todd Stephens asks, Does Meta Data Matter?

SearchCIO offers up a few responses to an interview with me that it recently published. Tom Pisello, CEO of consultants Alinean, sees "a litany of flawed logic" in my argument. He claims that his firm's research shows that "companies that spend more on IT achieve greater bottom-line benefits," though he then contradicts himself by saying that "the lowest-performing companies still spend more than the top performers." Let's be clear: There's no correlation between IT spending and business success. Bernard Golden, CEO of consultants Navica, argues that "there's no such thing as sustainable competitive advantage," so in essence it doesn't matter whether IT matters. I'd agree that no advantage is permanent, but I firmly believe that the length of time an advantage can be sustained is critically important. SearchCIO also posts a couple of bitter retorts by anonymous "users." One calls me "the Janet Jackson of authors," while to the other I'm a "charlatan" reaping "ill-gotten gains."

In its Winter 2004 issue, Strategy & Business namesDoes IT Matter? one of the best business books of the year.

In the November/December issue of the Journal of Business Strategy, two professors from the Weatherhead Business School, Betty Vandenbosch and Kalle Lyytinen, offer a rebuttal of my argument, which they find "spurious." What's important, they say, is not the technology but the way that you use it. (Print only.)

Public CIO magazine features, as the cover story in its current issue, a long interview with me by Blake Harris. Harris does a good job of drawing out the logic of my argument and its implications for both the private and the public sector. In its previous issue, the magazine ran a review of Does IT Matter? by Keith Comstock. "As much as I enjoyed the book and see its relevance to corporate America," wrote Comstock, "Does IT Matter? is extremely dangerous for the public sector." He fears that government officials will misapply the lessons of the book, using it to pressure governmental CIOs toblindly cut budgets. But, as I explain in the Harris interview, the commoditization of IT actually brings enormous opportunities to governments, giving them more options and more power to gain access to critical IT capabilities at a much lower cost. What would be really dangerous is to overlook those opportunities.

In the November 1 edition of Information Week, John Soat reviews Does IT Matter? along with In Search of Business Value by Robert McDowell. "Carr has a compelling argument," writes Soat, "and it deserves serious consideration." At the same time, he notes that McDowell, a VP at Microsoft, considers my argument "dangerously short-sighted" even if"he doesn't necessarily disagree with Carr's premise."

A couple of late-arriving reviews of Does IT Matter? from hither and yon: David Crowe, writing in the Australian Financial Review's BOSS magazine, calls it "a clearly written, fairly short and hugely enjoyable book that should be read by any manager responsible for an IT system. It could also repay a quick read by a CEO or CFO, for one simple reason: it provokes useful questions to ensure top technology managers are delivering results." Stephen Wolter, of Corporate Report Wisconsin, says, "Carr's concise and tightly written polemic is sure to find critics who will counter with persuasive arguments of their own. But in the meantime, his book is a clear-headed and refreshing examination of our technology-dominated age."

Craig Barrett, CEO of Intel, which has had to hastily retreat from its longtime marketing focus on chip speed (see my new newsletter article), gets onto his knees and begs customers to "forgive us" for reneging on its promise to introduce 4 GHz Pentium chips during an October 19 speech. Asked about my argument that IT has lost its strategic power, Barrett says, "Let's talk about something more consequential."

SearchCIO.com features an interview with me by Sarah Lourie.

Sun throws a big Wall Street party and deliberately snubs me. Be that way.

I had the opportunity to give one of the opening keynote speeches at IDC's European IT Forum in Paris on September 27. The speech and the reaction to it through the remainder of the event was covered in Computerworld and IT World.

In a speech at a computer industry conference, Internet guru Don Tapscott "repeatedly pointed out that he was making the anti-Nicholas Carr argument," according to an article in Information Week. He claimed that companies would have to become "killer businesses" in order to forge successful "business web models." "This is the age of competitive advantage," he said, "and the killer business will be central to that." I'm not sure what any of that means, but if it represents the anti-Nicholas Carr argument, I'm happy to be Nicholas Carr.

Does IT Matter? is No. 3 on Federal Computer Week's list of "10 Must-Reads for IT Managers." No. 2 is Execution: The Discipline of Getting Things Done. And No. 1 is Sun Tzu's The Art of War for Managers.

Hackles were raised when I presented my ideas before a crowd of IT managers at the Society for Information Management's SIMposium in Chicago. Here's a brief report from eWeek.

Brian Deagon quotes me in an article on the dangers of innovation in the September 13 edition of Investor's Business Daily.

A case of wishful thinking? Tim Mendham writes "The Last Nick Carr Story Ever" in the Australian edition of CIO magazine. He examines some of the ideas in Does IT Matter? that have not been broadly examined in the press, particularly the potential for IT to corrode exising competitive advantages by homogenizing complex business processes.

The September-October edition of the Journal of Business Strategy features an article I wrote titled "The Corrosion of IT Advantage: Strategy Makes a Comeback.” Download an excerpt (pdf).

In the September 6 Chicago Sun-Times, Michael Krauss profiles me in advance of my speech at the Society of Information Management's SIMposium. Krauss says I'm "singlehandedly reshaping the way the business world thinks about information technology."

Long-time Ace Hardware CIO Paul Ingevaldson refers to my argument in a Computerworld article written on the occasion of his retirement.

The August 16 edition of the Financial Times (subscription required) features an article by me that examines the changing corporate role of information technology and the implications for IT management. The article is part of the FT's Summer School series.

At a dinner party at his home, Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates reportedly called my contention that IT is becoming a commodity input "the dumbest thing I've ever read."

"When it comes to corporate performance management there is a serious argument that [Carr] is often, if not nearly always, right," writes Philip Howard at IT Director.

An excerpt from Does IT Matter? is featured as the cover story in the August issue of Industrial Engineer.

Harvey Schachter offers a thorough review of Does IT Matter? in the July 28 edition of the Toronto Globe & Mail. "Over the past year, Mr. Carr has heard all the arguments against his thesis," writes Schachter. "In this book, he dismisses them one by one, making a strong case that we need to rethink IT, since its importance has waned."

The July 23 edition of the New York Times features an op-ed column by me on the software business, under the title "Microsoft Is Dead. Long Live Microsoft." The column also appeared in the International Herald Tribune. In the piece, I argue that, because software is neither consumed nor subject to wear and tear, the growth of the industry hinges on the perpetuation of the upgrade cycle. As the upgrade cycle has slowed, so has the industry's growth.

Microsoft's Pat Helland sings a response to my ideas.It's to the tune of "American Pie" and is called "Bye, Bye Mr. CIO Guy." No, I'm not kidding.

Articles in Indonesia's Jakarta Post and Hong Kong's The Standard include comments on my ideas.

John Stuckey reviews Does IT Matter? in Ubiquity. Although he takes issue with my assessment of IT's role, he says the book is "full of useful and interesting information and based on impressive, documented scholarship."

The Summer 2004 issue of CFO IT features an interview with me by Scott Liebs as well as a brief excerpt from Does IT Matter?

Under the unfortunate headline The Satanic Verses of IT, John Russell reviews my book in Bio-IT World. "Much of the IT buildout is done," he concludes. "That includes hardware and most software." Amen, brother.

Andrew Wahl reviews Does IT Matter? in the June 21 issue of Canadian Business. "What Carr offers is reaffirmation of business reality as a tonic for hyperbolic marketing," he writes.

"It is not kosher, I suppose, for those with a vested interest in the IT industry to agree with Carr, but I do," writes Tan Ee Sze, editor of Computerworld Singapore. "I find his logic persuasive and his observations valid, even though I may quibble over the semantics."

In the Square Off section of Optimize's June 2004 issue, I answer the question "Are CIOs Taking on a More Strategic Role?"

ManyWorlds gives Does IT Matter? five stars, its top rating. It writes: "Does IT Matter? deserves a careful reading, especially by technophiles who might initially take the message too personally. Carr has done an excellent job in bringing perspective to the clouded world of IT, whether you share his opinions or not. "

The ideas in the book are stirring considerable debate around the world, with recent articles in India's Financial Express and The Hindu, CNet Asia, Singapore's Computer Times, the UK's The Register, Holland's Computable (print only), and Australia's Financial Review (fee required).

Andy Lawrence reviews Does IT Matter? in Information Age. "Hundreds of books and hundreds of thousands of articles have been written in the past decade extolling the huge benefits that have been reaped, or will be reaped, from IT," he writes. "Very few of these are as clearly written, or as rooted in common sense, as Does IT Matter?"

Watching big IT companies respond to Does IT Matter? is fascinating. It's really exposing the dischord between their emerging strategic positionings (as providers of utility services) and their old-style marketing rhetoric ("IT is crucial to competitive advantage"). The latest example is SAP. Computerworld reports that at a big user conference in Australia on June 2, SAP executive Shai Agassi, "taking a shot at Nicholas Carr's book," urged companies to increase their IT budgets and put their IT departments "back in the innovator's seat." But at the same event, another SAP exec, Leo Apotheker, gave a very different message: "Companies need to maximise what they have instead of throwing more technology at the problem; they need to leverage existing infrastructure."

The Association for Computing Machinery (ACM), the oldest IT professional association, features an extensive interview with me in its on-line magazine, Ubiquity. I tend to do better as a writer than as an interviewee, but this one's not bad.

"It does matter whether or not you read Does IT Matter?" writes John McClenahen in the June issue of Industry Week. "Form your own opinion. Don't just accept the criticisms of such IT insiders as Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer and Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fiorina."

Stan Gibson reviews Does IT Matter? in the May 24 eWeek. He concludes: "In sum, Carr's work is thorough; it's scholarly without being dry or pedantic; it's concise without being incomplete. IT thinking rarely gets a contribution of this caliber. Read it."

"I think it's the duty of every CTO to read this book," says Chad Dickerson of InfoWorld.

The May 19 issue of Darwin features an excerpt from Does IT Matter? It's actually one of my own favorite passages from the book, in which I examine some of the forces, including vendor overshooting, that are turning business software into a commodity input.

The Harvard Business School also features an excerpt from the book on its Working Knowledge site.

New York Times technology writer Steve Lohr offers a thoughtful review and critique of Does IT Matter? in the Summer 2004 issue of Strategy and Business (under the fetching title "Does Nick Carr Matter?"). Lohr was the first writer to mention my Harvard Business Review article "IT Doesn't Matter" in print, way back in early May 2003. In his new review, he writes, "When 'IT Doesn't Matter' was published in HBR, I thought Mr. Carr had delivered an important, thought-provoking reconsideration of the role of IT in the economy and inside companies. Now that his analysis has been expanded to book length, I still do." He goes on to lay out those parts of my argument that he agrees with and those parts that he takes issue with.

PalmSource CEO David Nagel is the latest member of Big Tech's old guard to lash out at my ideas. In a speech at the Wireless Enterprise Symposium in Chicago, Nagel termed my suggestion that IT is becoming a mundane factor of production "sort of preposterous on the face of it."

The May 17 issue of Computerworld features an interview with me by Kathleen Melymuka in which I offer my perspective on the debate over my ideas. The issue also includes a brief excerpt from Does IT Matter?

The May 17 edition of eWeek includes an article by me that introduces the concept of the Z Curve, a useful tool in thinking through the timing of IT investments. The on-line version of the article lacks a chart that appears in the print edition. You can see the chart here.

Does IT Matter? is reviewed in the May 24 Business Week by the magazine's Silicon Valley bureau chief Robert Hof. Hof takes a more expansive view of IT than I do in the book; he looks at its role in consumer products and services as well as within businesses. From this perspective, he argues that IT still has considerable transformational power. I think that's true in some areas (music, for instance), though I sense that at least a little of Hof's enthusiasm derives from faith more than reason. Once you look beyond, say, entertainment/media and the IT business itself, it's actually hard to see the basis for any great IT-spurred industry transformation. Which isn't to say that there won't be great new IT-based products and services; there surely will. Anyway, my own focus is admittedly narrower, concentrating on IT's use as a business input. Here, Hof seems to agree with me that IT is on its way to becoming "merely another part of business infrastructure," though he thinks it will take longer than I do. "Even if its skepticism is excessive," Hof concludes, "Does IT Matter? will give executives and managers a way to sift through the next wave of tech hype."

Bob Metcalfe, Ethernet inventor, venture capitalist, and sometime gentleman farmer, rides to the defense of the IT establishment with an attack on my ideas in the June issue of MIT's Technology Review (subscription required). He claims that IT and even electricity (!) "are very much alive as important elements of corporate strategy," though he seems to ignore the role of competition in strategy. Bob's article is a shortened version of a speech he gave before a debate with me at a recent Computerworld conference.

The May 10 edition of the Boston Herald features a story by Jon Chesto on my book and the reaction to my ideas.

In the May 6 New York Times (fee required), Berkeley professor Hal Varian reviews Does IT Matter? "It's a good book," he writes. "Mr. Carr lays out the simple truths of the economics of information technology in a lucid way, with cogent examples and clear analysis." He goes on to examine how sources of advantage may shift as the technology itself matures. "Commoditizing [IT] does not necessarily mean innovation slows," he writes. "If anything, it could accelerate as more and more innovators experiment and tinker with those cheap, ubiquitous information technology commodities." Varian's article also appears in the International Herald Tribune.

Also on May 6, the Financial Times (subscription required) reviews the book. "My initial reaction on scanning the title was to worry that Carr might be backing down," writes John Gapper. "The assertion of the HBR article has become a question. Perhaps the scorn heaped upon him from the West Coast - the article hit a raw nerve in the post-bubble Valley - had made him tone down the inflammatory nature of his thesis. Happily not. In this short, coolly written book, Carr sticks to his guns. Indeed, he draws out the implications of his ideas for the use of technology and the management of companies in a way that is intellectually engaging, if dry in parts."

Does IT Matter? is reviewed in the May 2 Boston Globe. "Carr shows that he is an iconoclast unafraid of attacking some of the fictions surrounding the nature of IT," writes reviewer John Mello. "Does IT Matter? engages the imagination and the emotions, a rare combination in a business book."

ZDNet features a streaming-video interview with me, conducted by editor-in-chief Dan Farber. I discuss my book and the reaction to my ideas.

The May 2004 issue of Wired magazine includes a short article by me titled "Want to Piss Off a CEO?" In it, I examine some of the attacks on my ideas that have come from tech company CEOs and show how their own actions contradict the rhetoric. The competitive strategies of many big IT companies, I argue, are actually accelerating the commoditization of computer hardware and software.

The May 1 issue of CIO features an extensive interview with me by the magazine's editor in chief, Abbie Lundberg. The issue also includes a 1999-style critique of my "elegant thesis" by Don Tapscott, president of an outfit called the New Paradigm Learning Corporation.

The Spring 2004 issue of the MIT Sloan Management Review features an excerpt from Does IT Matter? entitled "In Praise of Walls." In the piece, I critique the new school of "post-company" theorists who favor a radical form of outsourcing. These thinkers argue that the central unit of commerce is shifting from the individual company to an amorphous network, or "business web," of highly specialized, modular businesses linked by the Internet. I point out that, while the Internet certainly opens the door to creative new sourcing relationships, companies that rush to sacrifice their organizational integrity may well end up sacrificing their competitive advantages as well.

David Ticoll, a Canadian business consultant, takes offense at my critique of the short-sightedness of much "business web" thinking in an article in the April 29 Toronto Globe and Mail. Ticoll, the coauthor of a book promoting the business web concept, nonetheless concedes that "most uses of IT will not yield competitive advantage, they will merely let you get along."

CIO Insight reviews Does IT Matter? in its April issue. The review concludes: "Carr's expanded arguments make a good case for managing IT to the goals he describes. And even if you don't agree with him, your boss very well might."

The Economist, in an article on my book in the April 1 issue, says: "Nicholas Carr has foisted an existentialist debate on the mighty information-technology industry . . . His argument is simple, powerful and yet also subtle."

Here's what American Airlines' American Way magazine says about Does IT Matter?, in naming me one of the "10 people to watch in 2004": "Last spring, Nicholas Carr's article in the prestigious Harvard Business Review, 'IT Doesn't Matter,' slapped the tech world upside the head, unleashing what one reporter called 'the rhetorical equivalent of a 50-megaton smart bomb.' Now, Carr's legion of critics is bracing for his book-length salvo due out this year. Just don't look for any latte-stoked book-signing parties at Microsoft headquarters."

Here's what the Harvard Business School Press says about the book: "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. Acclaimed business writer and thinker 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."

[For a log of earlier responses to my article "IT Doesn't Matter," go here.]