I wrote a blog July 16th called, “The US has lost its Economic, Free-Market Mojo”. Turns out the front page and lead article in the US Print Edition of the Economist, July 19-23rd was called “America’s lost oomph”. Talk about timing. This lead article is very, very important to IT. In 2004 Nicholas Carr asked “Does IT Matter”. For the last 20 years, IT has mattered a lot. But we are in deep trouble now, as an industry. IT matters more yet I believe that we are, mostly, missing the boat.
The Economist article related to how GDP in the US remains lackluster – way below its long term trend. And the longer this condition persists, the worse the chances for the country to get out of its funk. We might even get used to this situation – which is not a good thing for our own well-being. Without growth, serious growth, we can’t improve our own lot, let alone the lot of those that are less well off.
However, IT has a key role to play. The article highlights how IT helped power the productivity boom from the 1980’s. All manner of computer technology automated what had been manual and repetitive; processing allowed new problems to be solved; and communication helped streamline supply chains around the globe, and the world a flatter place. However, in recent years that IT powered productivity bonus has disappeared. In fact, there is a reference to a paper from John Fernald of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco that suggests the waning of IT’s involvement in how productivity growth.
The reality is that there are different types of productivity. Early computer assets helped improve labor productivity since it took few people to achieve more output. More recently newer technology (e.g. big data, Internet of Things) is helping capital driven productivity to be more effective. But the point is we, all of IT, are not firing on all cylinders. In fact we are missing on so many fronts that we are no longer even part of the solution.
The scale of the impact of IT on the business world just isn’t what it used to be. No amount of ERP, or Business Intelligence, or even big data, is doing it (so far). This leads me to another issue I have: bad IT spend.
When Gartner officially coined its formal definition of Enterprise Information Management (I was there when Gartner did), several vendors renamed and re-badged their technology offering to “EIM solutions”. This was silly. The whole point of EIM was that firms in general were not spending smartly and were just spending on IT “because”. And this persists today. Firms continue to spend on IT “because”. If IT powered productivity was improving then the spend would be more impressive.
Then again – another data point – looking at how firms use their information asses one wonders where success is to come from. Another data warehouse, or swapping one ERP for another, does not cut the mustard. And too many vendors focus on “selling software” or services, and are not really focused on making a difference to their customers’ world. We should be focused on value, value, value – and how our contribution makes a marked difference. We can help grow the economy. We can help make that difference.
I don’t know what the answer is yet – but we (the IT industry) need to focus on something other than what we look at most of the day today. That part is clear.
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