Commoditization And Innovation - IT Does Matter

from the understanding-economics dept

Last year there was a long and loud discussion all around the tech industry concerning Nicholas Carr and his assertion that IT doesn't matter any more, since it's become a commodity. Now, knowing that controversy sells books, he's gone on to write a full length book, Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage. Professor Hal Varian, in the NY Times has responded brilliantly to the arguments Carr makes. Carr's assertion (often misunderstood) is that IT is becoming a commodity, and as such, offers no sustainable competitive advantage to companies. Basically, the argument is that everyone can easily have the same IT setup, so it should be looked on in the same way as electricity: a necessary component, but one that gives no particular advantage. Varian makes the point that we've discussed here in the past: commoditization, by itself, does not mean the end of innovation or the end of business opportunities. In fact, it can be the exact opposite. Commoditized products are inputs into innovation. The fact that they are commoditized actually means it's easier and cheaper to use them innovatively to gain a competitive advantage. In other words, it's about taking advantage of the fact that they are commoditized and realizing that they're now resources and not end products themselves. The same argument, by the way, could be used in the entertainment industry - but that's a story for another post. Still, I think the real stumbling block with Carr is his insistence on "sustainable competitive advantage." Let's face it, sustainable competitive advantage is a myth. There is nothing any company can do that can't be copied eventually (or leapfrogged). Competitive advantage is always fleeting. What a good company recognizes, however, is that the way you build the idea of a sustainable competitive advantage is by constantly innovating, so that your fleeting competitive advantages add up to a sustainable one. One way to do that is to recognize commodities for what they are: opportunities for new innovation, and not something to be pushed aside as useless.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    parker, May 6th, 2004 @ 1:13pm

    The NY Times has professors?

    A minor point, the NY Times doesn't have professors, they have reporters, editors, contributors, etc. Hal Varian is a professor at The School of Information Management and Systems at UC Berkeley. He is a contributor to the times.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      icon
      Mike (profile), May 6th, 2004 @ 1:17pm

      Re: The NY Times has professors?

      Er... he is a professor, and therefore it's okay to refer to him by his title, Professor Hal Varian. I wasn't indicating that he was a professor FOR the NY Times.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Pete, May 9th, 2004 @ 4:25am

      Re: The NY Times has professors?

      Actually, they do. Jayson Blair was a professor at Caltech and was twice awarded the Nobel Prize for Physics.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anna K. Chacko MD, Jul 17th, 2006 @ 2:47am

      Re: The NY Times has professors?

      If I wrote a comment for the NY Times and was quoted as Dr. Chacko said "Blah Blah Blah" - it does not mean that NY Times has a doctor (MD) on staff - it merely means that someone who has an MD degree wrote a comment for the NY Times.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    •  
      identicon
      Anna K. Chacko MD, Jul 17th, 2006 @ 3:11am

      Re: The NY Times has professors?

      If I wrote a comment for the NY Times and was quoted as Dr. Chacko said "Blah Blah Blah" - it does not mean that NY Times has a doctor (MD) on staff - it merely means that someone who has an MD degree wrote a comment for the NY Times.

       

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    aNonMooseCowherd, May 6th, 2004 @ 3:29pm

    patents and monopolies

    There is nothing any company can do that can't be copied eventually (or leapfrogged).

    Except that the Patent Office seems happy to grant patents to anyone for anything, so pretty soon every supposed business improvement will be patented.

    What a good company recognizes, however, is that the way you build the idea of a sustainable competitive advantage is by constantly innovating,...

    Or by having a monopoloy.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Carlos E. Perez, May 10th, 2004 @ 4:51am

    A couple of arguments

    Here's my arguments rebutting M.Carr's thesis:

    http://www.manageability.org/blog/stuff/it-doesnt-matter-rebutted

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  •  
    identicon
    Dan, May 15th, 2004 @ 7:32am

    Maybe you should actually read the book

    Clearly, you haven't even read Carr's book. It is, in fact, a sophisticated examination of the forces that turn IT hardware and software into commodity inputs. He quite clearly and forcefully states that it is only by becoming a standardized, commoditized input that IT can reach its full potential as a component of the products and services companies produce as outputs. And with the Wired article, he's simply calling the bluff of the tech executives who continue to proclaim that their products aren't commodities while pursuing strategies of commoditization. If anyone's creating a strawman here, it's you.

     

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


Add Your Comment

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here
Get Techdirt’s Daily Email
Save me a cookie
  • Note: A CRLF will be replaced by a break tag (<br>), all other allowable HTML will remain intact
  • Allowed HTML Tags: <b> <i> <a> <em> <br> <strong> <blockquote> <hr> <tt>
Follow Techdirt
A word from our sponsors...
Essential Reading
Techdirt Reading List
Techdirt Insider Chat
A word from our sponsors...
Recent Stories
A word from our sponsors...

Close

Email This