If you Google “it doesn’t matter”, the top entry isn’t the song by CRUSH 40 or a YouTube video by Dwayne Johnson (aka “The Rock”). It’s actually a Harvard Business Review article written over 10 years ago by Nicholas Carr entitled “IT Doesn’t Matter”. From Mr. Carr’s summary of the article:
“I examine the evolution of information technology in business and show that it follows a pattern strikingly similar to that of earlier technologies like railroads and electric power. For a brief period, as they are being built into the infrastructure of commerce, these “infrastructural technologies,” as I call them, open opportunities for forward-looking companies to gain strong competitive advantages. But as their availability increases and their cost decreases – as they become ubiquitous – they become commodity inputs. From a strategic standpoint, they become invisible; they no longer matter.”
The article is certainly one of the most controversial pieces ever published by HBR and it launched Carr into the spotlight. It would be easy to have a flippant response along the lines of “Ask Kathleen Sibelius” if IT doesn’t matter, but such a response would stop us from getting a deeper understanding of what really matters and what doesn’t.
With the huge momentum behind cloud computing it would be easy to think of MIPS to be just like electricity and that there is no real differentiator involved because similar sized organizations will consume more or less of the same amount of MIPS. Yet Healthcare.gov didn’t fail because it didn’t have enough computing horsepower. If that was the case, the problems would have been fixed within 24 hours. Healthcare.gov failed because the application software failed.
Large complex organizations need large and complex application software. Marc Benioff’s boasting aside, the idea that Healthcare.gov could be handled by a simple cloud computing application is nonsense.
In fact, a joint McKinsey Oxford study found that one out of every six large IT projects was a disaster for all concerned. While good project governance and management are essential, choosing the right technology is also crucially important.
IT may not matter – but building great application software certainly does.