Responses to Carr

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Letters

Does IT Matter?
An HBR Debate

to

the

Editor

1 Introduction by Thomas A. Stewart
2
5
7
6

Letters from:
John Seely Brown and John Hagel III
F Warren McFarlan and Richard L. Nolan
.
Paul A. Strassmann
Other readers

17 Reply from Nicholas G. Carr
Order the article,“IT Doesn’t Matter”
E-mail us at hbr_letters@hbsp.harvard.edu

Every magazine has an ideal, or an idealized, reader. For Harvard Business Review, he or she is an executive of uncommon
intelligence and curiosity: the brightest
CEO you know or can imagine, perhaps.
We like to pretend that our ideal reader
has chartered us to prepare a briefing
every month. On the agenda, we’ve been
told, should be three kinds of items.
First, our reader says, bring me important new ideas, research, or insights: “Boss, here’s something you should
know.”
Second, bring me important eternal
truths, rediscovered and refreshed: “Boss,
here’s something you shouldn’t forget.”
Third, bring me into the picture
about important issues and arguments:
“Boss, here’s something you will want
to know about.”
New ideas, truths, and disputes: When
we do our job well, HBR is a forum
where you get some of each, and all of
it is important. Nicholas G. Carr’s “IT
Doesn’t Matter,” published in the May
2003 issue, falls into the third category.
It takes one side of an argument that’s
undeniably urgent and important to
business leaders.
In 2000, nearly half of U.S. corporate
capital spending went to information
harvard business review • june 2003

technology. Then the spending collapsed and the Nasdaq with it, and in every boardroom–and in every technology company–people began to wonder: What happened? What was that spending about? What’s changed? What has not? And what do we do now? What is

our technology strategy, and how does
it affect our corporate strategy?
Forcefully, Carr argues that investments in IT, while profoundly important, are less and less likely to deliver a competitive edge to an individual
company. “No one would dispute that
information technology has become
the backbone of commerce,” Carr says.
“The point is, however, that the technology’s potential for differentiating one company from the pack – its strategic potential – inexorably diminishes as it becomes accessible and affordable
to all.”
Unsurprisingly, “IT Doesn’t Matter”
has generated an enormous amount of
controversy. Our ideal reader wants that
give-and-take, argument and counterargument, the better to understand the issues. Always in such cases, people are
more likely to write to us when they
disagree with an article’s point of view
than when they agree with it. Always

in such cases, a few people mistake the
argument. (In this instance, the most
common misperception is that the article says that IT is dead and that it will not continue to be a source of dramatic,
even transformational change. It doesn’t
say that. Instead, it says the odds are that
the benefits of such changes will inure
to whole industries rather than any one
competitor. Instead of seeking advantage
through technology, Carr argues, companies should manage IT defensively – watching costs and avoiding risks.)
And always in such cases, some very
smart, thoughtful people present urgent,
cogent, and forceful challenges to the
article’s conclusions.
We have received so many thoughtful
letters that we have decided to publish
them here, together with Carr’s reply.
That decision reflects – among other
things – one way in which the ubiquity
of IT has created new opportunities for
us and for all publishers to interact with
readers. It also reflects HBR’s continuing
commitment to offer readers a forum
full of thoughtful voices, bringing you
what’s newly learned, what’s fiercely
argued, and what truly matters.
Thomas A. Stewart
Editor
page 1 of 17

D o e s I T M att e r? A n H B R D e b at e • W E B E X C L U S I V E

Letter from John Seely Brown
and John Hagel III...
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