A common topic among professorial types is the commodification of IT. And no, I don’t mean that these highly intelligent people think that IT should be flushed down the toilet. Instead, the discussions are an attempt to answer this question: Is IT a product or service that cannot be differentiated and is it therefore a commodity?
To understand commodities, think about corn. Corn is corn. Granted, you may prefer corn harvested earlier or later, but it is still corn. Is IT like corn? Is it like any other commodity? I would argue that, while Information Systems may be moving closer to commodification, Information Technology (the work of IT professionals) is not. Information Technology is about the implementation of technical solutions (Information Systems) in a strategic manner that benefits a specific organization in sometimes unique and sometimes generic ways.
Now, if IT is a commodity, there should be little difference between the implemented technical solutions from one company to another. Consider the analogy of corn again. If you have corn at one restaurant and then at another, is the corn exactly the same in both restaurants? The answer is a clear no. Here is the key: corn is a commodity, but the preparation of the corn is a skill and that is no commodity. The same is true for IT. IT professionals implement technologies that are often implemented in other organizations, but do all organizations implement the technology the same? Again, the answer is a clear no.
For these reasons, I would argue that Information Systems – the technologies we implement – may be moving toward commodification, but Information Technology – the way in which we implement the systems – is not. There are only so many ways to implement a railroad; there are billions of ways to implement a Windows Server or a Linux machine. Therein lies the difference.