Yesterday I sat in part of Bob McDowell's session at MS101, our internal orientation for new hires. (There's also an MS101 now offered to our external partners.) Bob is arguably one of the most dynamic speakers at the company. MS101 attendees gave him a standing ovation after his 3-4 hour talk, during which he did not use a single slide. Bob is the author of "In Search of Business Value: Ensuring a Return on Your Technology Investment" (with review available here).
During his talk, Bob mentioned the 2003 article "IT Doesn’t Matter" by Nicholas Carr, available via HBR Online. The author has reference links to this article on his web site, and there's a good summary of the original article available here.
If you find this of interest, see also Businessweek's brief article "Just How Important Is IT Anyway?" It's a discussion with Mr. Carr and Bob McDowell, talking about "whether today's IT can offer companies a competitive advantage." Bob said in the article that "one of the difficulties with this discussion is you can't define what IT means today insofar as it will be absolutely accurate 5 to 10 years down the road. Unlike electricity and the railroad, you're going to see continued innovation."
From the article:
Where do you see this debate going?
McDowell: I think Nick and others who've raised this issue are doing a service because it's causing the industry to be a lot more serious in focusing on true business value. One of the risks, and I'll admit it, of the '90s, was a lot of us got involved to some extent in hype and promises that exceeded reality, and some mistakes were made.
There is a lot more businesslike focus in IT today. From an industry perspective, I think you can differentiate…one supplier from another on how well they make the business case, not on how much they focus on technology as an end in itself.
Carr: Focusing on the exceptions and what can we learn from them is a much more interesting discussion than the way it started out. We've moved beyond the era where IT vendors can get away with just saying every new product was "strategic" and "you've gotta have this."
The industry has moved beyond that. We're at the stage of the debate where it's focused on more concrete things that can help the actual buyers and users of technology do a better job.