Fiorina: IT does matter

The role of technology in the enterprise may be changing, but IT still very much matters, Hewlett-Packard Co. Chief Executive Officer Carly Fiorina said Tuesday in a keynote speech at her company’s HP World user convention in Atlanta.

Fiorina was referring specifically to a widely discussed May article by Nicholas Carr in the Harvard Business Review entitled “IT Doesn’t Matter.” In it, Carr argued that scarcity was what made a resource strategic, and that since high technology has become commonplace, managers should focus on mitigating risk rather than leveraging computer technology to gain competitive advantage.

“I think that is not only dead wrong, but it is also an argument based on quantity, not quality,” Fiorina said in her speech, which was webcast. The role of technology in the enterprise is becoming more integrated with business processes and its role becoming more polarized, but it remains something that can be used competitively, she said.

“There is no separation between IT and business, and technology is a weapon or a vulnerability,” she said.

But the enterprise’s focus on technology has changed since she assumed the helm of HP, she said. “The 90s was an era when people got very fixated on speed and flexibility. CIOs I talk to today spend less money than they did four years ago, but they understand IT better.”

The need to better understand IT is one of the factors driving consolidation in the technology industry, as customers expect more from their vendors than many smaller companies are able to provide, Fiorina said.

“Customers are demanding more of their technology,” she said. “You can no longer tolerate IT as a science experiment or a mystery. It can’t any longer be something that only geeks in the back room understand.”

Fiorina took a jab at rival computer maker Dell Inc. during her speech, calling them a “low tech” company. It is no coincidence that the Round Rock, Texas, company recently dropped the word “computer” from its name, she said.

“With Dell’s announcement that they’re getting into the distribution of televisions, what they are is crystal clear,” she said. “They’re a distribution company … and now I think they intend to distribute whatever they can through a distribution model that’s effective.”

Dell has been selling televisions through its Web site for over two years, a Dell spokesman confirmed.

The HP chief ended her keynote on a familiar theme, discussing her company’s “adaptive enterprise” strategy, which tries to combine HP’s many hardware, software, and support offerings in a manner that makes customers more responsive to business needs. The strategy emerged partly as a result of HP’s efforts to manage the integration of its own IT systems with those of Compaq Computer Corp. following its 2002 acquisition of the computer maker.

Fiorina credited the adaptive enterprise strategy with making the HP-Compaq merger a success, and added that the technology consolidation that it enabled cut the combined company’s IT spending by 25 percent.

“It’s a huge reason why we pulled off the largest merger in the history of the technology industry a year ahead of schedule,” she said.