Thursday, April 27, 2006

For Whom the (IT) Bell Tolls

I recently read a post by Jeff Kaplan, a SaaS expert with THINKStrategies, about being Nick Carr for a day. It seems that some IT folks are still stewing over Nick Carr's assertion that IT doesn't matter, and they directed their venom at Jeff when he piled on the Carr bandwagon by demonstrating that SaaS is a natural evolution in the commoditization of IT. Personally, I believe that IT matters, but the question is "for whom does IT matter?" and its corollary "for whom the (IT) bell tolls?"

Lou Gerstner recently gave a presentation to the Cognos sales team where he asked that team the following questions (or something very similar, as I was not there):

"How many of you have purchased an electric motor in the past year?"

Two people raised their hand.

"How many of you have purchased any one of the following in the last year: a refrigerator, a car, a fan, a dishwasher, a washing machine or a dryer, a laptop, PC, or a vacuum cleaner"

Half the audience raised their hand. The point is obvious. You do not care about buying motors, you care about the functionality they deliver when integrated into an application. A faster, cheaper, quieter, lower power motor matters VERY much to the appliance vendor, as it potentially gives them competitive advantage. The customer sees these benefits as longer batter life, a quieter appliance, cheaper electric bills, and so on. But the motor doesn't matter by itself, at least not to the consumer.

IT, therefore, matters very much to technology application providers. The ability to consume better components into their solutions so that customers get a better result matters a great deal. The ability to create unique combinations that deliver a new innovation matters a great deal. IT certainly matters to Apple, and Microsoft, and IBM, and, and Red Hat. If IT does not begin to matter a lot less to the customers of these companies, then the executives of these companies all deserve their ultimate low stock value fate.

But what about the IT staffer that has so long labored to overcome the inefficiencies of her technology suppliers? If her company's basic value is not achieved via the intellectual capital contained in the application technology that she produces, "never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee."


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