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Why IT Matters

Given the soft job market, IT pros can't feel good about such observations. Why not just hang it up now, before Humongous Gas, Electric & IT or some foreign sweatshop takes over?

For one thing, the debate is far more complicated than the misleading HBR headline and provocative Ellison sound bites indicate. Just because data storage, processing, transport and other IT elements are less scarce than they used to be doesn't mean companies can't derive competitive advantage from them--or from the myriad noncommodity information technologies that continue to be invented and improved. Ultimately, it's how an organization deploys and manages those technologies and aligns them with unique business processes that distinguishes it from rivals. The creative interplay and manipulation of systems, applications, data, processes and people that render competitive advantage can't be mass-produced.

Indeed, companies must manage their IT spending better than they did a few years ago (a tenet of the HBR article is to spend less). The biggest IT spenders were never the biggest innovators. Wal-Mart and Dell--companies that transformed their industries through their unrelenting development and use of supply chain, point-of-sale, data analysis and other technologies--are classic penny-pinchers. Just ask any IT vendor "lucky" enough to land their business. But selectivity is more important than parsimony. The commoditization of IT products only helps companies allocate money to those other systems, applications and processes that make a difference with customers, partners, suppliers and employees.

And sometimes it takes commodity systems to finally drive business innovation. For example, only when voice-over-IP systems are cheap and easy enough to deploy and manage will more than
a handful of companies deliver their own unique multimedia applications over those systems.

Hardly a Commodity

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