The role of technology in the enterprise may be changing, but IT still very much matters, Hewlett-Packard chief executive officer Carly Fiorina told delegates at the HP World user convention in Atlanta.
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Fiorina was referring to a widely discussed article by Nicholas Carr in the Harvard Business Review entitled "IT Doesn't Matter". In it, Carr argued that scarcity was what made a resource strategic, and that since high technology has become commonplace, managers should focus on minimising risk rather than exploiting computer technology to gain competitive advantage.
"I think that is not only dead wrong, but it is also an argument based on quantity, not quality," Fiorina said, adding that the role of technology in the enterprise is becoming more integrated with business processes and its role becoming more polarised, but it remains something that can be used competitively.
"There is no separation between IT and business, and technology is a weapon or a vulnerability," she said.
Fiorina said the focus on technology has changed since she became HP's CEO. "The 1990s was an era when people got very fixated on speed and flexibility. CIOs I talk to today spend less money than they did four years ago, but they understand IT better."
A better understanding of IT is one of the factors driving consolidation in the technology industry, as customers expect more from their suppliers than many smaller companies are able to provide, Fiorina said.
"Customers are demanding more of their technology ... You can no longer tolerate IT as a science experiment or a mystery. It can't any longer be something that only geeks in the back room understand."
Fiorina took a jab at rival computer maker Dell during her speech, calling it a "low-tech" company, saying that it is no coincidence that Dell had recently dropped the word "Computer" from its name.
"With Dell's announcement that they're getting into the distribution of televisions, what they are is crystal clear," she said. "They're a distribution company ... and now I think they intend to distribute whatever they can through a distribution model that's effective."
Dell has been selling televisions through its Dell.com website for more than two years, a Dell spokesman confirmed.
The HP chief ended her keynote on a familiar theme, discussing her company's "adaptive enterprise" strategy, which tries to combine HP's many hardware, software, and support offerings in a manner that makes customers more responsive to business needs.
The strategy emerged partly as a result of HP's efforts to manage the integration of its own IT systems with those of Compaq following its 2002 acquisition of the computer maker.
Fiorina credited the adaptive enterprise strategy with making the HP-Compaq merger a success, and added that the technology consolidation that it enabled cut the combined company's IT spending by a quarter.
"It's a huge reason why we pulled off the largest merger in the history of the technology industry a year ahead of schedule," she said.
Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service