Now Reading: The Big Switch, by Nicholas Carr

This book was recommended to me by another Health Information Technology professional, and I really got a lot out of … the first half of it. I was so on the fence about what I thought about it as a whole that I looked up both the review of the book on, and I read Nicholas Carr’s article “IT Doesn’t Matter,” from the Harvard Business Review to check on my thinking.

I’ll start with the first half, which was very engaging and engrossing, comparing the rise of the electrical industry to the commoditization of information technology. I have read about the electrical industry before, but not so well laid out. There are many parallels worthy of drawing, such as the way our culture was deliberately and unintentionally changed as a result of electrification. Fascinating, especially around the way that managing a household changed – the same number of hours doing house work, just higher expectations and more technical skill required. This is where the HBR article also helped a little bit, because the concepts are important for health information technology. In the article, he says

In the earliest phases of its buildout, however, an infrastructural technology can take the form of a proprietary technology. As long as access to the technology is restricted – through physical limitations, intellectual property rights, high costs, or a lack of standards – a company can use it to gain advantages over rivals.

That sort of sums up the state of Health Information Technology, and a nice analysis done of this recently also alluded to the idea that there’s an inertia present among vendors that’s keeping HIT in this phase.

That’s unfortunate.

That HIT though. What about the rest of IT within a health care company – the storage servers, the document creators, e-mail, etc. He says

In the long run, the IT department is unlikely to survive, at least not in its familiar form. It will have little left to do once the bulk of business computing shifts out of private data centers and into “the cloud.”

The HBR article helps here as well, where he says that the IT buildout in most companies is complete, and “Commodities can be essential to business without being essential to strategy.”

The second half of the book is about the “World Wide Computer” and the implications that it has for privacy and the general threatening of industries as we know them today. I think the data about the publishing industry is compelling and of note – 13 percent, or 150,000 jobs lost since 2001. This potentially awaits any industry that is disintermediated.

I thought, though, that this section was written for a different generation of reader, though, one who has not grown up with computers. It’s a nice overview and a lot of the truths make sense, but they didn’t seem like revelations to me in my GenX state. I was really hoping for more detail on how the new IT department would be like and how companies were moving to things like employee asset management and software as a service.

So, maybe worthy of a read, at least the first half, from your local library or book rental service (more on this in a future post).

There are some provocative ideas and I would be interested in learning about companies that are moving to software as services across the enterprise, so reduce the waste of excess storage and maintenance of data centers. If anyone knows of companies doing this, let me know either in the comments or by contacting me directly.

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