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Before publishing his 2003 HBR article Nicholas Carr has had no real connection to the IT industry. The only connection that I have found was the fact that in 2001 he edited and published a foreword to the collection of articles "Digital Enterprise : How to Reshape Your Business for a Connected World" (A Harvard Business Review Book)
The publication of Carr's 2003 HBR article is in self an almost detective story. As one Amazon reviewer aptly put it:
"While filling in for a 'let go' editor of the Harvard Business Review (HBR), a business writer with no personal involvement or experience in IT uses prime-time pages of HBR to conjure up a British tabloid piece that raises him to IT stardom."
The wave of feedback and indignation about backstabbing the industry which was at the end of long dot-com slump was so fierce that HBR published a selection of letters of reader in subsequent June 2003 issue (An HBR Debate). Typical responses from IT community were extremely negative, but a little bit over-emotional, for example:
In fact, I think he planned his entire career around putting forth and publishing absurd and retarded ideas, once after another. Stop buying his works of fiction and ignore him and force him to get a real job. Then, after he has walked a mile in our shoes, lets see him spew forth his pack of lies, half truths, and other hair brained ideas.
In 2004 (just a year from the article) Carr published his first book Does IT Matter Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage Nicholas G. Carr Books It contains seven chapters:
The first two chapters are historical overview promotes Carr's false analogies between IT and electrical utilities and as such does not have any value to informed reader.
The third chapter is essentially an expanded version of the initial article and contain the same frivolous treatment of facts. In this chapter he actually managed to confuse architecture with protocols. Chapter four expands on Carr views about competitive advantages and contain the same examples as the article (SABRE and AHS order system). I would like to provide a good counterexample: IBM Tivoli -- expensive proprietary system which survives since 1996 and even managed to gain market share despite existence of a dozen of open source and commercial rivals. He manage to get one point right: move to open systems and protocols helps to save money in most cases but incorrectly attributes this to commodization, while open source systems by definition are more customizable then proprietary software. Here they have a competitive advantage against proprietary rivals (with the exception of those which have internal scripting language). This fact is not understood by Carr.
Chapter five is relatively new and contains incoherent discussion of role of IT in speeding up the elimination of competitive advantage between commercial rivals. Carr correctly claims that IT technology is easily replicatable but forget to note that this is now typical for the all industries. Borrowing something the competitor created is already faster a end cheaper that creating a new product. But reality is more complex that Carr description of it. I would like to remind Carr Wal-Mart successful lawsuit against Amazon, where it proved that Amazon lured key specialists in order to replicate Wal-Mart IT processes. He also praise the "screwdriver" approach to building PC and servers citing Dell's advantage in direct order systems. I would like to remind him that Dell is now opening retails outlets and is selling computers via Wal-Mart and Sams club. Also Dell itself proved to be not immune to the 'race to the bottom' and is now suffering both from HP (which sell its products mainly via retail) and from Acer. The latter undercut its costs in ultraportable laptops area (Eeee).
Chapter six contain a very superficial discussion of why IT projects fail, and high number of failures convinces Carr that this waist of resources should be stopped and companies should buy off the shelf software. It did not come to his mind that high level of failures is correlated with tremendous complexity of the projects. That's extremely naive but that's typical for the whole book. Carr also repeats his standard three recommendations ("spend less", "follow, don't lead" and "focus more on vulnerabilities then opportunities" ) -- basically the same (false and superficial, see below) argumentation as in the article.
Chapter seven touches the influence of IT on productivity.
In 2008 he published The Big Switch Rewiring the World, from Edison to Google Nicholas Carr Books. This 276 pages book got 20 mostly positive reviews and managed to get the Amazon sales rank 3000, but an interesting thing I noticed is that when on May 10, 2008 I published my, highly critical review it was immediately followed with a 5-star review.
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