I was sitting next to James Robertson yesterday as Ray Lane delivered his opening keynote address at FastForward07. At one point James leaned over to me and joked that I was beginning to twitch. What was bothering me was that Ray was perpetuating the lazy and glib thinking of Nick Carr’s infamous Harvard Business Review article “IT doesn’t matter.”
Carr setup a series of artificial distinctions and misleading definitions to make the binary point that IT was always and everywhere a corporate utility function that had no place at the executive table. While that certainly played well in many organizations that had poured millions of dollars into ill-conceived technology initiatives, I doubt that it gained much traction in the board rooms at Amazon or Google. The question is not whether IT does or does not matter. The questions are how does it matter, when does it matter, how does it integrate with our broader strategic agenda, and what do we as senior executives need to understand about technology’s capabilities and possibilities in order to make intelligent decisions for our particular organization.
In the context of this conference, Lane is making a similarly broad assertion that “search is core.” That may make for an excellent marketing tagline, but I am struggling with just what it means for an organization. I am wary of any claims that boil down to “here is your silver bullet.” My own bias is that all of these promising technologies are just that-promising. Now, the task is to unpack and understand what it will take to turn the promise into reality in a particular organization at a particular time and place.