On the Strategic Value of IT

The kernel for this snowball was Metric 2.0‘s question in a recent comment on one of my posts.

Does IT have strategic value? I shall resist the temptation to quote Paul Strassmann or Nicholas Carr, or even to rebut them.

My thoughts on this are simple:

  • First, you can no longer separate information and communication from the enabling technology. IT, or ICT, can therefore be deemed as not having strategic value in any industry or sector where information or communications have no strategic value. [I shall desist from the temptation to try and find such an industry or sector, it would be nothing more than an academic exercise full of sound and fury, signifying nothing]. As long as information has strategic value, ICT will have strategic value.
  • Second, there is no doubt that commoditisation of ICT is increasing, and the speed of that commoditisation is also increasing. But the commoditisation of ICT does not mean a consequent loss of strategic value. All it means is that ICT will gently shift from being a With object to a Because Of object. Chris Messina has a good post on this, working off Doc‘s snowballs. [Yes I have linked to this post before, it’s good enough for me to do it again.]
  • Third, no matter which way I try and interpret the word “strategic” I come up with the same answer. Is ICT important or essential in relation to a plan of action for a given business? Usually. Is ICT essential to the effective conduct of a business? Usually. Is ICT useful in destroying the effective potential of a competitor? Usually.

Enough blather. If a business has a strategy, it is very likely that ICT will form an integral part of that strategy, on a Because Of rather than With basis.

Businesses don’t always have visible or perceptible or for that matter even tacit strategies. Many are happy to operate in a market at the whim of their competitors. In such environments it is arguable that ICT has no strategic value. Neither does anything else, for that matter.

I am more than happy to accept that ICT does not always deliver the strategic value required of it. Again, neither do many other things. Why? That’s a whole different ball game.  But part of the reason is blame cultures, part of the reason is poor expectation management, part of the reason is silo-ed approaches within the business, part of the reason is ICT people acting hoity-toity, part of the reason is the lack of worthwhile and implementable standards, part of the reason is a vendor-dominated market, part of the reason is a surfeit of “big whatever” consultants, part of the reason is Conway’s Law, part of the reason is lack of adequate numbers of skilled resources, part of the reason is organisational politics, part of the reason is just bad execution.
In summary:

  • Information and Communication have strategic value
  • Where a firm has a strategy, ICT will have strategic value, on a Because Of basis
  • This strategic value is not necessarily easy to extract; history does not show ICT in a good light
  • But things are getting better as a result of the Web and opensource and Moore and Metcalfe and Gilder

3 thoughts on “On the Strategic Value of IT”

  1. It may be clear and concise, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right. It’s just how I view things, and I’d love to see what others think. Thanks for your comments and support.

Let me know what you think

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