Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Does IT Matter?

In May 2003, Harvard Business Review published a paper authored by Nicholas G. Carr titled “IT Doesn’t Matter”. A business partner of ours sent it too me and yes, it was thought provoking, and yes, it nearly made my blood curdle.

A Technorati search shows that the article has been widely reported on by AccMan and Navarik. The title isn’t a total red herring designed to hook you in before it makes some clever ironic play. The paper really does make the case that at a strategic level “IT Doesn’t Matter” because it is approaching commodity status. Quite simply- I disagree, especially in health care IT.

1. The article paints a static picture of any company’s IT investments. This is a war of continuous evolution rather than a battle between individual systems.

2. I would argue that the commoditisation of IT provides the opportunity for organisations to construct orchestrated solutions disruptive to markets and their competitors. Customers can apply technologies in ways that the creators of the building blocks had not imagined. This is a highly competitive capability which depends on organisation competence and agility.

3. The investment in IT is being painted in black and white. Because the customer was not intelligent, IT investment was focussed on features that solve problems without consideration of how the problems are solved. The “how” has become crucial because for features from many suppliers to work together requires an understanding of this architecture. I would agree there was overinvestment in features- but only now are we looking at the architecture.

4. You cannot compare, as Nicholas Carr does, IT to electric power or railways by analogy at almost any level. Information simply does not conform to the First Law of Thermodynamics. If the physics don’t stack up, nor will market comparisons. We’re talking about tools for knowledge workers, not core utility services.

5. Technology as a competitive factor in health care is only just beginning. We are along way off a sector with the characteristics this article is describing. Technology is still widely seen as a necessary evil in this sector which is amazing as few other sectors would benefit from computerisation more than healthcare. It is such a complex sector that control of information will make the controllers very competitive. The status quo suits only the incumbant. Managing vulnerabilities is important, but there is an opportunity for a health care IT company to be created out of the current climate who will lead us into the next phase of IT maturity.

*ClickRich’s New Rules of IT Management would therefore be:

Spend wisely, but large investment in health care IT is required to catch up.
Follow on core technologies, lead in how you apply them.
Focus on Opportunities if you are an emerging Health care provider.

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