In today’s WSJ, Nick Wingfield addresses one of the stranger information-technology developments of the past decade. The off-the-shelf computing technology available to anybody with a few bucks to spend (and in some cases without any bucks, as some of the best stuff is free) is significantly better than what large corporations provide their employees:
For a look at how sharp the divide between work and home can be, consider my experience. The Wall Street Journal gives me a laptop with Windows XP, an operating system I found satisfying when it came out eight years ago but that lacks a lot of modern touches, like a speedy file-search function. My home computer, meanwhile, is a two-year-old iMac running the Leopard version of Apple’s Macintosh operating system. Among other virtues, it’s got a search function called Spotlight that lets me track down files in a flash.
Or take email. Please. There’s a limit on how much email employees can store on the company’s system, and I routinely bump into it. So, I need to spend time hunting through old notes in Microsoft Outlook and deciding what to keep and what to delete, or risk a shutdown of my account.
We’ve gone from IT as a major competitive advantage, as it was for some leading-edge corporations in the 1980s and 1990s, to Nick Carr’s thesis that “IT Doesn’t Matter” (that is, companies need it, but it’s no longer much of a source of competitive advantage) in 2003, to IT as albatross, as big companies spend big bucks to maintain systems that probably result in lower productivity than if they simply let employees fend for themselves.
There’s got to be some broader economic and/or societal significance to this shift, but I’m waiting for someone else named Nick to explain it to me. Nick Lowe, maybe?