Sometimes I get to do something very cool that's really not part of my job.
A few weeks back, I was asked to interview Nick about his new book (The Big Switch) for an upcoming piece in ON magazine, EMC's publication to customers. His book hadn't been published yet, so I got sent a preview copy, which I read thoroughly.
I loved the book. It's now on my right rail. Or, go see this interview with Wired magazine.
More importantly, I really enjoyed talking with Nick about all manner of things.
A Bit About Nicholas Carr
Without doing a whole in-depth bio about Nick, there's three things that I think you should know Nick.
First, he's a prolific blogger. This guy puts me to shame. If you're not a regular reader of Rough Type (Nick's blog), you might consider it -- great stuff.
Second, he wrote the all-time conversation starter in the IT industry, namely, "Does IT Matter?" which raised the hackles of many of us in an intelligent, thought-provoking manner. His book lead directly to a great discussion in the industry, and it looks like he's done it again.
Third, he's a wonderful guy to interview: thoughtful, patient, flexible. If good guys deserve to do well, then Nick should do well.
Nick's central thesis is simple: IT is much more efficient at scale; so do-it-yourself IT will be eventually supplanted by Web 2.0 service providers.
Whether you agree with Nick or not, that's irrelevant: his book makes you think.
A majority of the book uses the evolution of electric power distribution as a historical analogy for what's about to happen in the IT world. Like IT is today, the history of power generation started as something every company did for themselves.
Just like none of us would question the benefits of utility-provided power today, Nick's argument is that -- before too long -- we won't question the benefits for utility-provided IT services.
Not only is this a fascinating piece of history that I wasn't aware of, the parallels to IT (while not perfect) will certainly make you ponder things a bit going forward.
What We Talked About
Rather than argue with Nick about his central premises (futile, I believe), I was more interested in Nick's thoughts about "how" it would happen, rather than debating "if" it would happen.
An example: if IT's "old" role was running the power plant for the company, what would be their new role? Not surprisingly, I got into my usual rant about information governance and the new role of IT, and we found some common ground.
Maybe the new role of IT is as an "external services broker" for IT services, while still owning the governance and use of information across the enterprise.
Another example: what would force the shift? Nick's point is that it's all about economics. I countered that economics alone wouldn't drive a behavioral shift, people do lots of things that aren't economically logical.
I pointed out that it might be "time to deployment" that really makes IT departments look hard at a services-type model. Users have new requirements? Maybe the difference is getting it done in six weeks vs. six years.
Back to the electricity analogy; sure, centralized power generation is cheaper. But if everyone is getting a competitive advantage from using electricity, do you really want to wait six months to start using it? Or how about getting the power company to hook you up in six days?
We also talked a bit about trust. We've all become accustomed to trusting the power company (other than those of us who own generators just-in-case), but I bet at one time, people who were generating their own power thought long and hard about trusting a central utility. Kind of what's happening now in the IT world.
We talked about privacy issues in a utility IT world, and how some of the most popular names (e.g. Google) were finding out the hard way what society will and won't tolerate in the use of personal information.
We talked about adoption being faster with companies that don't have legacy IT infrastructure. If you're starting a new business, it's simple, using web-based services to build your IT model is the only viable choice out there for many people. It's not only about economics, it's about time-to-market as well.
And We Talked About A Bunch More ...
... but I'll save that for the upcoming issue of ON Magazine, which I'll link to when it's published.
Bottom line: if you think a lot about IT and information, you're going to have to read Nick's new book.
Like all good books, it raises more questions than it answers.
And, if you do, please drop me a line or comment and let me know what you think ... thanks!