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Does i-Technology Matter?

"i-Technology" Does Matter. It Matters in Ways that "IT" Could Only Ever Dream Of...

When Nicholas Carr posed the question "Does IT Matter?" in his now-famous Harvard Business Review essay, he clearly knew that it would provoke discussion. He probably didn't know, on the other hand, that it would eventually cause the world's richest man - whose wealth is derived 100% from IT - to call the essay, during a dinner party at his home, "the dumbest thing I've ever read."

 When extended by Nick Carr and published in book form, the essay was subtitled: "Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage." Carr's thesis, simply put, was that since business profits are based on your ability to differentiate yourself, you can only gain an advantage over your competitors by having or doing something that they can't have or do; thus, as IT becomes more and more a commodity, its ability to help your business differentiate itself will decrease

As Leo Lim has expressed it: "IT is merely a cost of doing business, cut in the same cloth as other innovations that once held a lot of promise like electricity and the railway system. Though no company can ever hope to operate much less compete without the above, its homogeneity and prevalence has somehow blunted its value."

So why would anyone, as I am doing here, go out of their way to ask the same exact question of Internet technologies (i-Technology for short)? Won't i-Technology just follow the same trajectory as its pre-Web predecessor, and end up "not mattering"?

My contention is that it won't.

To back this up, I want to point to the game-changing nature of the Internet as opposed to (merely) the silicon chip. No matter how much Carr might like to suggest that in some way the window of innovation for IT has closed, my counter-argument would be that with the advent of the myriad technologies that the Internet has spawned, the window has blown wide open again. It was blustered ajar by the existence of Web 1.0, and now it's in the process of being blown wide open by the arrival of Web 2.0.

Be in no doubt: i-Technology Does Matter. It matters in ways that IT could only ever dream of. It touches us hourly, daily, weekly. And it touched us in our home lives, at school or in hospitals, as well as in our business lives. In the western industrialized world, at least, i-Technology has altered our entire way of being…and, unlike IT, it is only just getting started.

One tried and true metric of the importance that society attaches to any activity has, throughout the centuries, been vocabulary growth. Just as farming terms multiplied rapidly through the 19th century, the 21st century has so far been characterized by hugely innovative additions to the dictionary, reflecting very real innovations in the real world, including both "blogging" (with its variants like "vlogging" and sub-words like "blogroll" and "blogdropping," and "podcasting" - not to mention the family of words that podcasting too has spawned, such as "podvertising," "nanocasting," "podsafe" and - doubtless soon, alas - "podspamming"). That is before you even begin on acronyms, from the early acronyms like HTML, HTTP, and TCP/IP to more recent ones like DHTML, DOM, and AJAX.

But terminology, even an abundance of it, is what economists would call, at best, a "soft indicator." So next month in this space I will turn from words to numbers and make my argument in terms of solid economic metrics. i-Technology professionals everywhere, stay tuned!

 When extended by Nick Carr and published in book form, the essay was subtitled: "Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage." Carr's thesis, simply put, was that since business profits are based on your ability to differentiate yourself, you can only gain an advantage over your competitors by having or doing something that they can't have or do; thus, as IT becomes more and more a commodity, its ability to help your business differentiate itself will decrease

As Leo Lim has expressed it: "IT is merely a cost of doing business, cut in the same cloth as other innovations that once held a lot of promise like electricity and the railway system. Though no company can ever hope to operate much less compete without the above, its homogeneity and prevalence has somehow blunted its value."

So why would anyone, as I am doing here, go out of their way to ask the same exact question of Internet technologies (i-Technology for short)? Won't i-Technology just follow the same trajectory as its pre-Web predecessor, and end up "not mattering"?

My contention is that it won't.

To back this up, I want to point to the game-changing nature of the Internet as opposed to (merely) the silicon chip. No matter how much Carr might like to suggest that in some way the window of innovation for IT has closed, my counter-argument would be that with the advent of the myriad technologies that the Internet has spawned, the window has blown wide open again. It was blustered ajar by the existence of Web 1.0, and now it's in the process of being blown wide open by the arrival of Web 2.0.

Be in no doubt: i-Technology Does Matter. It matters in ways that IT could only ever dream of. It touches us hourly, daily, weekly. And it touched us in our home lives, at school or in hospitals, as well as in our business lives. In the western industrialized world, at least, i-Technology has altered our entire way of being…and, unlike IT, it is only just getting started.

One tried and true metric of the importance that society attaches to any activity has, throughout the centuries, been vocabulary growth. Just as farming terms multiplied rapidly through the 19th century, the 21st century has so far been characterized by hugely innovative additions to the dictionary, reflecting very real innovations in the real world, including both "blogging" (with its variants like "vlogging" and sub-words like "blogroll" and "blogdropping," and "podcasting" - not to mention the family of words that podcasting too has spawned, such as "podvertising," "nanocasting," "podsafe" and - doubtless soon, alas - "podspamming"). That is before you even begin on acronyms, from the early acronyms like HTML, HTTP, and TCP/IP to more recent ones like DHTML, DOM, and AJAX.

But terminology, even an abundance of it, is what economists would call, at best, a "soft indicator." So next month in this space I will turn from words to numbers and make my argument in terms of solid economic metrics. i-Technology professionals everywhere, stay tuned!

 When extended by Nick Carr and published in book form, the essay was subtitled: "Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage." Carr's thesis, simply put, was that since business profits are based on your ability to differentiate yourself, you can only gain an advantage over your competitors by having or doing something that they can't have or do; thus, as IT becomes more and more a commodity, its ability to help your business differentiate itself will decrease

As Leo Lim has expressed it: "IT is merely a cost of doing business, cut in the same cloth as other innovations that once held a lot of promise like electricity and the railway system. Though no company can ever hope to operate much less compete without the above, its homogeneity and prevalence has somehow blunted its value."

So why would anyone, as I am doing here, go out of their way to ask the same exact question of Internet technologies (i-Technology for short)? Won't i-Technology just follow the same trajectory as its pre-Web predecessor, and end up "not mattering"?


More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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Most Recent Comments
Larry Towers 04/16/06 10:04:39 PM EDT

Actually you and Carr are both wrong. Of course IT matters, just like energy matters, like research matters, like people matter. However it matters only a resource that can be used well or badly. The days when having IT mean more than this are disappearing, which in a way is a benchmark of its entrenchment. IT just IS now.

Dion Hinchcliffe 04/07/06 03:51:03 PM EDT

I agree with your premise Jeremy. The inversion of control caused by Web 2.0 technologies is indeed a big game changer, although one could argue that it will ultimately dismantle the traditional organization. However, I think it will cause the identity of traditional organizations to actually merge over time with the people that make them up, blurring their identities.

It will probably be a good thing for the most part as corporate America erodes and business people become just people. It'll be interesting to watch and is part of of a trend that we now call "Social Computing":

http://web2.wsj2.com/the_webpowered_control_shift_social_computing.htm

Best,

Dion

bloodredsun 04/07/06 01:32:16 PM EDT

|| Carr's thesis, simply put, was that since
|| business profits are based on your ability
|| to differentiate yourself, you can only
|| gain an advantage over your competitors by
|| having or doing something that they can't
| have or do; thus, as IT becomes more and
|| more a commodity, its ability to help your
|| business differentiate itself will decrease.

By making IT a commodity, it can be offshored or outsourced easily. When it's a specialty, that becomes difficult to impossible.

One of the things that always troubles me with the Outsourcing debate is how it regards IT and software development as an entity in itself, rather than one that must deal with others. By this I mean both dealing with the business you are in and also the other departments in your company.

Counter-Indicator 04/07/06 01:08:25 PM EDT

> Won't i-Technology just follow the same
> trajectory as its pre-Web predecessor, and
> end up "not mattering"? My contention is
> that it won't.

Carr's essay was about how we should interpret the role of IT in organizations and built a case for a more defensive IT spending. Sounds like you're arguing for just the opposite: I await Part Two with interest.