ManagementSpeak: Fantastic job automating that system!
Translation: All your work will be removed until you leave now that we no longer need you.
KJR Club member Patrick Amato did a fantastic job with this translation.

Have we spent enough time criticizing Nicholas Carr?

Naw … we can squeeze at least one more column out of his Harvard Business Review article, “IT Doesn’t Matter.”

Carr, you’ll recall, asserts that information technology has become a commodity, and as such is now more of a defensive play than a strategic advantage. We’ve reached the point of diminishing returns, it’s become uninteresting … got the picture? It’s a message that’s simultaneously baloney and something lots of business executives will eat up with gusto, because it reinforces their deep-seated belief that IT is just a money pit filled with propeller-heads who use the company’s money to buy themselves toys.

Among the many well-thought-out rebuttals to Carr’s article is “IT Doesn’t Matter”: A Critical Analysis of Nicholas Carr’s I.T. Article in the Harvard Business Review, an upcoming book by Howard Smith and Peter Fingar which (ahem) quotes quite a bit of my recent KJR article on the subject. The key point, upon which Messrs. Smith, Fingar and I agree, is that unless how you do business doesn’t matter, IT has to matter since it’s built into every aspect of how you do business.

It is, of course, our own fault. As I pointed out in Bob Lewis’ IS Survival Guide (Macmillan/SAMS, 1999) we should never have placed our emphasis on information in the first place.

Not that information is a bad thing, you understand. It’s that information is the frosting, not the cake. The most important value “information technology” brings to most organizations isn’t the information, it’s process effectiveness. Want proof? Perform a gedankenexperiment. Turn off all of your company’s information technology and look at what forces you into bankruptcy: Your inability to do anything useful at a cost within two orders of magnitude of your most inept competitor will end your business’s sorry stay on this planet, long before anyone has a chance to notice a lack of information.

The devil is in the details (or maybe it’s God who lives there, as Ludwig Mies van der Rohe asserted. Or maybe both, which has fascinating theological ramifications not relevant here … but I digress.) Ahem. As I was saying, details matter. Our profession’s failure to understand that IT’s first priority is promoting efficient business processes has led to a staggering number of bad decisions, most of which are in the details where nobody ever sees them.

Nobody, that is, except everyone in the company who does real work. They live with the bad design decisions resulting from a focus on information instead of a focus on business process effectiveness. We call what they live with the “user interface.” We should call it “helping get important work done,” or maybe the “business process manager.” Then the user interface, which frequently ranks between “low priority” and “afterthought” in IT projects, would be elevated to where it belongs: The single most important factor in any IT project’s success.

Because there isn’t any such thing as an IT project in the first place. Projects are about business change — about how to make the business run better. With some exceptions (data warehousing projects, for example) the goal is to improve business effectiveness — to improve, that is, the efficiency of business processes and the impact of each employee.

So the next time someone charters an “IT project,” give it the right focus. Somewhere near the top, in the statement of objectives, make sure it says something like, “The purpose of this project is to optimize the company’s ability to xxx.

“And maybe, along the way, generate useful information, too.”