Can your choice of IT give you a competitive advantage?


Date: 18 August 2010

A few years ago in the illustrious Harvard Business Review, the academic Nicholas Carr argued that IT had become a commodity. As such, he suggested, IT could no longer give businesses any ‘significant competitive advantage’ — you know, the type which kit manufacturers claim will accrue from the use of their products… Ah, but there's a but:  Carr's argument was based on the IT spending habits of corporates, where huge sums could often be invested without  'return on investment' being necessarily synonymous with 'survival'. Carr's theory was that corporate overspending on IT had become institutionalised and characterised by an irrational acceptance of the latest standard, platform, network protocol or, you know, shiny new widget thing. (You might even say that such policies help perpetuate the IT upgrade culture — I couldn't possibly comment.) Could the same be said for SMEs? For small firms whose primary use of IT is as a processing tool, probably not. They're more likely to squeeze every ounce of life from their PCs, printers, monitors et al. What about businesses just starting out, or changing their business model to incorporate IT as part of their market proposition? In these cases, most definitely not. After all, you know that worn old maxim about small companies being more agile? Adopting new forms of IT is what makes it so true. Sure, there are companies of all sizes which view IT expenditure as something to be endured and measured more effectively. But a commodity? Not for SMEs. Small firms, for which all expenditure is potentially crippling, must make more focussed decisions about IT than their corporate cousins. And all too many have far more to learn about technology's transformative effect before they can safely bracket their IT budget alongside the leccy and other utilities.

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