In his disruptive 2004 book, Does IT Matter?, Nicholas Carr argued that innovations are so rapidly replicated that it essentially neutralizes the strategic advantage of technology. He coined the phrase, “vanishing advantage” to apply to technology and called it a “perfect commodity.”
The book caused a firestorm of reaction, as if Carr was the first one to say these things. I think, in fact, he was just tapping into a business zeitgeist that had already been around for nearly ten years.
This argument goes that technology is like electricity. You don’t have to understand it. (Who really knows how a transformer works?) You just have to be able to employ it to your advantage. Carr, under the Harvard Business imprint, was endorsing businesses wanted to believe anyway.
Here’s a secret: Employing the word “commodity” is business code for demeaning something because you’re afraid of it. Calling something a “cost center” is just another flavor of the same ice cream.
Technology is so ingrained in most businesses, especially media and publishing, that calling it a cost center is a ridiculous and outdate idea.
Here’s another ridiculous idea: “What we’ll do is wait until the dollars are justified by digital revenue, and then we’ll invest.”
I had a client whose famous internal wait-to-invest phrase was, “We want to be settlers and not pioneers.” The trouble was, by the time they decided the digital media revolution was far enough along to justify investing, they simply couldn’t catch up fast enough. Any large-scale technology roll-out takes two years. But even more difficult to overcome, the cultural and educational issues that exist in an organization that hasn’t been bought into the digital future all along.
(Excerpt from Admonster’s keynote, March 7, 2011)