% fortune -ae paul murphy

Consider Toyota

The neighbours two houses over have two cars: one's a Toyota, the other's a Chevy. Listen to him, and the Toyota is a paragon of automotive excellence, the Chevrolet a pile of junk barely able to roll downhill. They see this as both funny and sad, because it's true despite the fact that the two cars were made at about the same time by the same people, using the same parts, at the same factory and are phsyically differentiated only by badging.

There are non physical differences, however. For example, he paid list price for the Toyota and got bank value for his Ford, she got her Chevy at a dealer sale and turned cash back and free financing offers into a higher trade-in allowance on her Nissan. More interestingly, they've had these things for three years now and he's not the only one convinced the Toyota's the better car: he's going to more than recoup on its resale value what he lost on purchase price.

There is another kind of objectively verifiable difference too: in dealer behavior. When her engine stalled repeatedly it took several visits to the dealership before they discovered a clogged fuel filter -and not only did they charge for not finding the problem, they tried to charge her for the part. In contrast the Toyota dealership quietly replaced the filter during a regular service, merely noting it as a no charge warranty item on the work order.

We've got much the same problem in a lot of what we do in infotech - in fact this is what Nicholoas Carr is on about when he argues that the PC doesn't contribute to corporate strategic differentiation. He's right, your company's MCSEs aren't any smarter than the other guy's, the hardware both of you buy, whether you think it's from Dell, IBM, or even HP is really made by the same people in the same factory using the same parts, and the software supplier is, of course, a monopoly.

So how do you make IT count? where's your advantage? your opportunity to make a difference? Think Toyota, or as they don't say in the Marines: "same stuff, different way."

Paul Murphy wrote and published The Unix Guide to Defenestration. Murphy is a 25-year veteran of the I.T. consulting industry, specializing in Unix and Unix-related management issues.