In my last post, I claimed that empirical data indicates that Nicholas Carr is wrong and that IT does indeed still matter. In today's article, I will take my claim up one more notch and assert that only (I)T will matter.

Perhaps Carr's claim was just a bit premature? Maybe it takes a few more years until IT jobs begin to disappear in the big cloud? Many so-called analysts have been claiming for a while that the rationalization and automatization effects of cloud computing will cost IT jobs.

I believe that these claims are fundamentally flawed because they are based on the false assumption that the realm of IT doesn't grow anymore. This kind of analysis only takes into account what we do today with IT and then projects that rationalization effects will require fewer IT pros.

The reason why comparisons to technologies such as electricity (Carr's favorite) are totally beside the point is that innovation in IT is still rapidly growing, whereas those technologies that have indeed been commoditized haven't seen any noteworthy innovations since their maturation process peaked. Or did you discover any new breathtaking features or capabilities on your power outlets lately?

Recent innovations in IT, such as smartphones and tablets, significantly extended the way we can use IT. And look what is happening in the music, film, and book industries. I could go on about the tremendous effects that social networks, mobile broadband, or the countless innovations in medical IT have on our lives, and I would still not cover all important recent IT innovations. The truth is that IT is only at the beginning of its long innovation journey.

Innovation in IT is accelerating. That means that those organizations that are able to adopt and embrace these new information technologies faster have a significant competitive advantage. Thus IT is not just necessary (which Carr admits) and matters (which Carr denies), it matters more and more because more than ever it separates ambitious, innovative organizations from those that are satisfied with the status quo.

But why will "only" (I)T matter? Unfortunately, a blog post is not sufficient to support this claim. Fortunately, someone else already did this in an amazingly detailed way. That individual is my personal hero, Ray Kurzweil. In a way, he is claiming the exact opposite as Nicholas Carr. I suppose he never wrote the sentence "Only (I)T will matter," but I feel that this follows from his theory.

Notice that this is meant in the literal sense. In a nutshell, Kurzweil's theory is that the technological advances grow at an exponential rate, which will lead us to the "singularity", a time where technological innovation grows so fast that it is beyond the understanding of our current mental capacity. IT is not the only technology involved here, which is why I set the "I" in parentheses. However, IT will certainly play a crucial if not a dominant role.

I know this sounds like far-fetched science fiction, and perhaps Kurzweil is a bit too optimistic (or too pessimistic for Carr followers) when he claims that this will happen in the next 30-40 years or so. However, I believe this scenario is much more likely than a world where innovation in IT has stopped and IT has become a mere commodity. As a matter of fact, Kurzweil has collected an enormous amount of empirical data that indicates that exactly the opposite is happening. IT matters more and more and this at an accelerating pace. You don't have to be mathematician to predict where this will lead us.

By contrast, Carr's "analysis" is based on a flawed theory that is nurtured by a technology hostile philosophy. The main reason why he has numerous followers is not because he has convincing arguments to offer, but because many people share his fear of a future dominated by technological progress. Fearful people are an easy target for faulty but consoling arguments. And of course, every CEO and controller who hates to spend more and more money for something he has no clue about loves to hear that IT doesn't matter anymore.

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The main difference between Kurzweil and Carr is that Kurzweil is an IT veteran and innovator (playing in the same league as Bill Gates and Steve Wozniak) who made many predictions through the decades that already came true. On the other hand, Carr has no background at all in IT and is therefore, in my view, not qualified to say anything about IT that goes beyond the fact that he doesn't like computers and the Internet.

8 Comments
  1. Kent 11 years ago

    It’s true that “every CEO and controller who hates to spend more and more money for something he has no clue about loves to hear that IT doesn’t matter anymore.”

    But unfortunately, they are the ones making the decisions, including decisions of hiring/firing IT people. And those are the ones that need brain-wash. 🙂

    Cheers, nice post, Michael.

  2. Michael Pietroforte 11 years ago

    Thanks, Kent. You are right, they make the decisions. The good thing is that because we live in an accelerating world, wrong decisions lead to unwanted consequences much faster than ever before. Thus those CEOs who have been fooled and consoled by Carr’s theory will be punished sooner rather than later by a growingly competitive economic environment.

    If you are an engineer pro who believes in progress you better leave the ship of a captain who neglects his engine room. The next economic hurricane will sink even more of those slow moving ships with outdated engines.

  3. Paul Schnackenburg 11 years ago

    Hear, hear!
    Well put. The thing most people don’t get is that “corporate IT” (as opposed to the medical IT and other areas you mention) has two parts to it. Everyday, run of the mill IT that all business use (Email, Office, Database) and these areas are being commoditised because they’re not competitive advantages. My business isn’t going to be better than yours because I use Exchange 2010 instead of Lotus Notes. That’s why they’re being moved to the cloud. But IT is about so much more than file sharing and email. When IT is truly used to enhance the business or generate new areas of business, that’s when it’s comptetitive and innovative. And that innovation is done by people, not by machines (and certainly not by the controllers :-)).

    Very nice post Michael

  4. Michael Pietroforte 11 years ago

    Paul, thanks. I disagree with you in point though. I do believe that organizations who use Exchange instead of Lotus have a significant competitive advantage. It is not just that Exchange is more powerful than Domino, it is mostly because Notes is no match at all for Outlook. Studies show that office workers spend most of their work day with Outlook. Use the wrong PIM software, and you will lose a lot of productivity in your company.

    Another good example is Office software. Imagine two competing businesses, one still uses Office 2003 with a Windows file server, and the other uses Office 2010 with SharePoint 2010. Which company do you think is more competitive? And now let Carr write a book that explains the differences of these two “IT commodities” in detail. I doubt that he can.

  5. Paul Schnackenburg 11 years ago

    I should have made that clearer. I don’t think that using any email system is exactly the same and yes, there are benefits to efficiency with Outlook 2010 and Exchange 2010 for instance. But my business having email isn’t an innovative advantage since every business has email and has been using it for many years.
    My real estate agency might have a real advantage however if I can produce a virtual walk through of a holiday rental in a few minutes, using my smartphone and then upload that to our website, whilst simultaneously tweeting it to our followers. I just made that up, but you get that idea, using IT in a way other businesses aren’t doing (yet) is innovation. And I think that you and Kurzweil are right, the more IT is everywhere and the more it’s touching all parts of our life, the MORE opportunity there is for innovation using IT. And that innovation is and will be done by smart IT people.

  6. Michael Pietroforte 11 years ago

    I know what you mean. When IT enters a new field you have a big a competitive advantage if you are an early adopter. And once everyone adopted the new technology the competitive advantage is gone.

    However, I disagree with the last point. Email is not just email. Doing email with Outlook and Outlook Express is a huge difference. We don’t recognize the difference anymore because we get used to a new tool very fast. But I know people who still use Outlook Express and whenever they call me because they have problems I realize how big their competitive disadvantage is because they are wasting so much time with such simple tasks as searching an old email. Even the difference between Outlook 2007 and Outlook 2010 is big. Carr would claim that this difference doesn’t matter. However, I doubt that he really knows the difference.

    Having said that, I agree that adopting a new technology brings a much bigger competitive advantage than just upgrading your email software. But the competitive advantage is still significant because it increases productivity. The improved productivity is not so obvious and hard to measure and that is why it is so easy for Carr to convince people who like him don’t really know the difference between two Outlook versions.

  7. Aaron 11 years ago

    Michael, thanks for the interesting article. It seems like there have been people saying this for years but it doesn’t come true.

    One of the great things for us IT guys is that the IT world is constantly changing. New technologies come out all the time and executives always turn to us to make them work.

    Ten years ago wireless was just beginning to become commonplace, and now it’s just expected to be supported.

    We’re now thinking about moving some services to the cloud in the next couple years. Sure that can mean less physical hardware and on-site licensing but somebody has to understand how it works and how to maintain local resources to work well with it.

    What Carr and some CEO types fail to understand is that things don’t “just work”.

  8. Michael Pietroforte 11 years ago

    Aaron, I agree. Cloud computing lets companies outsource relatively simple tasks such as hardware management. However, cloud computing usually increases the complexity of the IT infrastructure significantly because cloud services and on-premises software has to work together. Cloud computing is not about cost savings, it is about increasing flexibility and the ability to adapt faster to new demands. Thus I believe that most companies will need more IT pros to manage their cloud environment.

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