Unconventional speaker on tap for IT convention
September 6, 2004
BY MICHAEL KRAUSS
Here's a Labor Day
quiz. Suppose I walk into a union hall filled with plumbers and
say, "Plumbing is great, but plumbing doesn't matter."
an accountant, doing whatever accountants do to relax, and some
joker walks up and says, "Accounting doesn't matter."
Perhaps you're a doctor, a truck driver, a carpenter or a teacher.
How would you feel?
Over 600 of
the nation's foremost information technology executives will get
to answer that question Sunday at the Sheraton Chicago Hotel and
Towers, when author Nicholas Carr arrives to open the Society
for Information Management's annual SIMposium conference.
attracts a who's who of the nation's technology professionals,
executives who guide hundreds of millions in corporate technology
tell them to spend less on computer technology, a clear break
with a nearly 40-year trend. He'll recommend companies move away
from cutting-edge technology. He'll say organizations can get
the IT they need for less money with less risk.
be a provocative night at the Sheraton.
Carr is the
highly cerebral and often controversial author who is singlehandedly
reshaping the way the business world thinks about information
technology. His May 2003 Harvard Business Review article, "IT
Doesn't Matter," is one of the most influential business
essays of recent memory.
hoping to take a different view of information technology than
the attendees might be used to," says Carr with mild understatement.
"I'm going to try to draw a distinction between business
resources that are essential and those that are strategic,"
adds Carr, who thinks IT has evolved to a stage where it's necessary
but not strategic. He'll illustrate that the same trend occurred
with previous technologies, including electricity and railroads.
You rely on power companies for electricity and transportation
companies to move freight. The same can be done with computing.
Soon there will be information utility companies.
it take to be an IT executive in this environment? "It's
about being a good manager rather than a great innovator,"
While he believes
deeply in the power of innovation, Carr will tell the audience
to leave that to others. "Innovation now takes place at the
supplier level. It's the IT vendors who are doing most of the
innovation," says Carr.
rush out and buy the next wave of computer chips? Not if you listen
been an assumption that every new advance is going to be put to
use in business. I actually don't think that's true. You get to
a point where IT capabilities go beyond the needs of most companies,"
to Carr, most PC users do e-mail, word processing, Web browsing,
and spreadsheets on their machines. Those functions were mature
years ago. The next wave might give us supercomputer power on
our desktops allowing us to edit audio and video, or play 3-D
games, but that means little for most business users.
at the point of diminishing returns," says Carr.
is a feather in the cap for Chicago's tech community. Inviting
Carr as an eye-opening speaker is a bold move. Carr's a global
thought leader who typically flies over the Midwest. Credit Baxter
International CIO John Moon, chair of the SIMposium program committee,
with recruiting Carr.
also drove the theme of the event. The title, "IT Leadership
at the Crossroads: Directions for Success," reflects Carr's
disruptive thinking, not the geographic location of the event.
has crested in biz
not arguing for the end of technological progress," says
Carr. "I'm arguing that the wave that consisted of information
technology in business has crested. There's going to be something
new. There always is. I think it's going to be something different
from what we know as IT."
agrees there will be plenty of IT jobs for years to come. Still,
I guess it's a good thing the Bio2006 trade show is coming here.
Biotech could become the new infotech.
In case you're
wondering, I think plumbers matter a whole lot. Who are you going
to call when your basement floods? Not an IT exec. Happy Labor
Michael Krauss is a Chicago-based tech writer and consultant.