Nicholas Carr, author of the book Does IT Matter?, is certainly being wise in advising the world to closely consider where it wants to be on the curve of IT innovation.
He is again wise to question the wisdom of spending too much too soon, chasing diminishing returns by buying the latest and greatest in IT, given that increasing commoditisation is the burgeoning reality. These are well-founded ideas that seek to make us question any partial blind faith of past IT spending habits.
I assume, in visiting Australia, Mr Carr flew across the ocean (safely, comfortably, quickly and relatively cheaply), stayed in a hotel (well serviced, well run and well turned-out), ate fine food (of good quality, well prepared and cost effective) and communicated with many people (locally, and perhaps worldwide, via a variety of means). In essence, Nicholas probably did all the kinds of things you or I would do during such a visit.
Here's my point: Mr Carr's ability to do all those things was because of people, technology and thinking that was anything but generic, previous version or just good enough. To breakthrough into new value spaces, new ways of business, new ideas, new products and new outcomes (and by 'new' I mean better, higher quality, faster, etc), you need to think beyond today, beyond what is common and low risk/least cost. Improvements in systems, products and services that make real differences to everything we experience arise in the hands of those prepared to capture them.
In this sense, this is why it's important to surround your enterprise and staff with the absolute best chance (best IT, best practice, best systems) to capture the moments when fresh insight arises. Mr Carr is correct. Most of the time, you don't need the latest and greatest for the routine tasks that we all are subject to. But having the best IT underneath you is vital when the day comes that you need to match up a new insight with preparedness. In that moment, you will be glad you are not surrounded by the cheapest priced, least-provisioned systems. Call it 'headroom for capturing innovation', but these are the times when the tools and systems you have surrounded yourself with will determine whether you are an innovator or just an also-ran. Spend on I.T., but spend wisely.
To put it another way: Tiger Woods is a golfer of many great moments, and it is he himself who makes the difference, but I doubt he uses off the rack, 'just good enough' golf equipment for the in between times.
IT does matter
So Mr Nicholas Carr is an author and academic but has he ever worked in IT? I can answer that without seeing his CV.
Anyone who works in IT knows it is not just infrastructure like electricity or a railroad and never will be. IT transforms companies. Yes, competitors can replicate innovation and they may do it within days or weeks after you go live. But in business, Mr Carr, days, weeks and even hours can be a very long time. Innovation does make a difference and always will.