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Q&A: Nick Carr on 10th anniversary of 'IT Doesn't Matter'

Ann Bednarz | May 15, 2013
Nick Carr rocked the tech world with his controversial essay in the May 2003 issue of the Harvard Business Review, titled "IT Doesn't Matter." Carr claimed companies were overspending on IT and that the competitive advantage to be gained by tech investments was shrinking as technology became more commoditized and accessible to everyone. On the 10-year anniversary of the article's publication, Carr talked with Network World's Ann Bednarz about what he got right, what he got wrong, and how the piece remains relevant today.

On the part of CIOs in IT departments, I think the reaction was much more mixed. Some of them really took offense at the article, but others said, "Yeah, I can see a lot of sense here. This is kind of where we're heading, this is what I'm trying to do." And so there was a great divergence of reactions among CIOs, IT departments and other corporate managers.

Was the backlash more or less than you expected?
It was definitely more. I knew I was writing something that was provocative and that went against the grain of a lot of the rhetoric that was out there about information technology and business. But the reaction went way beyond what I expected. The article came out right at the beginning of May, and I remember the immediate Sunday afterwards, Steve Lohr picked up on it and wrote a big story that mentioned the article in the Sunday New York Times, in the front of the business section. That also galvanized attention.

Back then, the article was only available to subscribers. What might it have been like if it were widely available on the Internet?
Back then, if the world had been like it is now, I think it would have gone viral, but I think it would have been forgotten very quickly, which is true of a lot of things that go viral today. I think it would have made a big splash immediately, but I'm not sure it would have had the kind of long-lasting impact that it had in coming out in print in the Harvard Business Review. It was a different world. A lot of people's awareness of the article came not through the article itself, because they didn't have immediate access to it, but though the coverage elsewhere.

How did the article change your career?
It completely changed it. Based on the reaction to the article, I got a contract from Harvard Business School Press, which was a separate operation but a sister company to Harvard Business Review, to expand it into a book, "Does IT Matter?", which came out a year later in 2004. I left HBR and figured I'd take a year to write the book, then find some other editing job at a magazine, but there was so much interest in the article, I started getting speaking engagements, and other writing opportunities, and suddenly it became possible for me to be a freelance writer. I've been on my own ever since. One book led to another. So it really completely changed my career, it's fair to say.

 

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