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Living in the vanilla world

Who do you believe? IT controversialist Nicholas Carr has been back in town dampening down enthusiasm about innovative IT creating unique competitive advantage.

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Who do you believe? IT controversialist Nicholas Carr has been back in town dampening down enthusiasm about innovative IT creating unique competitive advantage.

As Cliff Saran's interview with Carr makes clear, he still thinks IT is past its sell-by date as a leading agent of commercial change. Sure, IT is part of the critical infrastructure of the business, agrees Carr, but that applies to everyone out there scrapping for market share.

Get yourself some decent IT at a good price, just as you would aim for a good deal on your electricity supplies, and get back to the real business, he urges the hard-pressed business executive.

So what is all this we hear from Andrea Masini of the London Business School? "Make sure your processes remain unique, or even poor companies will be able to catch you up by buying the same processes off the shelf," he told a recent Gartner conference.

IT should be used as a tool to develop specific business-process agility, not just a commodity service that does not help you differentiate yourself from the herd, according to Masini.

So who's got it right? Well, even Carr acknowledged in his Computer Weekly interview that Goldman Sachs deserved credit for its self-built derivatives pricing system which, as long as everyone keeps the formula secret, gives it a unique selling point in the battle with its rivals.

Taking this example and the fact that Masini was addressing his remarks to the financial services sector into account, are we to conclude that City wheelers and dealers can still have their fun with bespoke systems while the rest of us poor souls have to make do with off-the-peg?

Let's hope not. It will be a very dull world if we all plump for vanilla.




This was first published in October 2006

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