FROM THE CIO POINT OF VIEW: THE “IT DOESN’T MATTER” DEBATE Larry DeJarnett The Lamar Group email@example.com Robert Laskey Revelation 360 firstname.lastname@example.org H. Edgar Trainor Paramount Pictures email@example.com
EDITOR’S FOREWORD This article differs from all the articles CAIS published previously in that it is a debate on the nature of IT written by practitioners from three different points of view. It deals with IT Doesn’t Matter, a polemic written by Nicholas Carr, then editor of the Harvard Business Review in which he argued that the days when IT offered strategic advantage are long since gone and that managers therefore should undertake a different approach to IT. The paper, obviously, became notorious in the IS community. On December 3, 2003, the Southern California Chapter of the Society for Information Management, at its regular meeting invited three of its members with long experience as chief information officers to debate the issue. The title of the meeting was: "I.T. Doesn't Matter or Does It? How to Improve the Value and Perception of I.T.” The three debaters were assigned a position to argue: favorable to Carr (Laskey), neutral (DeJarnett), and unfavorable to Carr (Trainor). Edited versions of their remarks are presented below. Keywords: value of IT, perception of IT, role of IT, Nicholas Carr, I.T. Doesn’t Matter, IT Does Matter, contrarian point-of-view, strategic advantage, vanishing advantage of I.T., ubiquity, management of technology I. MAKING SENSE OF THE IT DOESN'T MATTER DEBATE by Robert Laskey INTRODUCTION Perhaps too much has been written about the debate surrounding Nicholas Carr's  article, IT Doesn't Matter, in the Harvard Business Review. In lieu of a debate, what management needs now are some answers on how to measure IT value and how to develop an appropriate investment strategy for the IT function. Many believe that for too long the IT function went From the CIO Point of View: The “IT Doesn’t Matter” Debate by L. DeJarnett, R. Laskey, and H. Edgar Trainor
Communications of the Association for Information Systems (Volume 14, 2004)443-455
without a rational, effective investment strategy. Boiled down that is the net, net of the Carr debate. Turning back to the debate itself, in the main, each position centers on an individual's perspective and actual experience with the IT function. Simply put, an individual opinion is in the eye of the beholder. Many people with bad IT experiences are aggressively in the pro-Carr camp. Others have an opposite experience and reaction. For many, the debate can trigger an emotional rather than a rational response. Personally, I have seen almost 40 years of IT history elapse. Certainly this experience does not constitute totality but it is enough to weigh in. This individual perspective, involving both positive and negative experiences, was shaped by experiences in three roles. Initially as a CIO for a Fortune 100 and then, for a Fortune 25 companies. Second, as a Big-4 Partner and consultant to IT and general management with experience with over 100 clients. Last, as a non-IT executive who was critically dependent on IT performance on multiple occasions. At the Southern California chapter of the Society of Information Management (SCSIM), the panel was organized from a perspective of black hat, white hat and grey hat. My draw for the event was the black hat, speaking from the IT doesn’t matter or pro-Carr camp. After some soul searching and reflection, I found the role easier to accept than I initially believed possible. This article is based in part on the SCSIM panel but is augmented by the reaction by others, largely CIOs at the event, shared in private at the conclusion of the chapter meeting. What is the appropriate way to deal with the issues raised in the Carr debate? Hopefully, this article takes some positive steps...