For several years now there has been an ongoing debate in the industry about how strategic information technology is to businesses. Some, such as Nicolas Carr, have argued that IT is now ubiquitous and no longer offers strategic advantages to businesses.
Working for an IT vendor, I have an inherent bias towards arguing that IT is highly strategic. Gartner recently introduced a framework which divides IT systems into different categories – those which provide opportunity for differentiation and innovation and those which do not (systems of record).
While this framework is useful for customers it introduces a new debate as to which technologies fall into which categories. Of course, every vendor will argue that their products provide opportunities for differentiation and innovation.
One measure that could be used to identify which technologies are most strategic is to examine investment levels by leading corporations. Suppose that analysis revealed that across the Fortune 500 companies the top investment areas in terms of dollars are Oracle databases and EMC storage arrays. Does that mean these are the most strategic? Probably not. So total spend is not necessarily indicative of the importance of the technology.
Are there other types of investment levels that could be measured? What about equity investments that the Fortune 500 have made in technology vendors? What about investments that the Fortune 500 have made to build their own technology-based products? Surely, these types of investments reflect a more strategic importance in technologies.
But do the Fortune 500 really make these types of investments? You may be surprised to learn that 34 of the Fortune 50 have made strategic investments in B2B integration technologies over the past 15 years.
These companies either:
a) Built their own B2B integration products such as FedEx has done with its EDI services
b) Purchased an equity stake in a B2B integration company such as Ford’s original investment in Covisint
c) Divested their interests in B2B integration products to another company
Here is the list of companies in the Fortune 50 that qualify based upon the three categories above:
Wal-Mart Stores – was an investor in RetailersMarketXchange
ConocoPhilips – was an investor in TradeRanger
General Electric – sold Global eXchange Services (GXS) division; investor in GHX (Global Health Exchange)
General Motors – was an investor in Covisint
Bank of America – recently sold off Paymode; also is a member/owner of SWIFT
Ford – was an investor in Covisint
Hewlett Packard – recently acquired a B2B Group via the EDS transaction
J.P. Morgan Chase & Co – acquired Xign, also is a member/owner of SWIFT
Citigroup – recently spun off Interchange Brazil, also is a member/owner of SWIFT
McKesson – owns its Relay Health division, also was an investor in Health Nexis
IBM – recently acquired Sterling Commerce after selling its EDI network (Advantis) as G International; also an investor in e2open
Cardinal Health – was an investor in Health Nexis (now owned by GHX)
CVS Caremark – investor in e-prescription network Surescripts and WWRE (World Wide Retail Exchange)
UnitedHealth Group – owns Ingenix which offers EDI-based services to the health care community
Wells Fargo – is a member/owner SWIFT
Kroger – was an investor in GNX
Procter & Gamble – was an investor in Transora
AmerisourceBergen – equity investor in GHX
Walgreen – was an investor in WWRE (World Wide Retail Exchange)
Target – was an investor in WWRE (World Wide Retail Exchange)
Medco Health Solutions – was an investor in Surescripts
Boeing – was an investor in Exostar
Johnson & Johnson – equity investor in GHX
Dell – recently acquired Boomi
PepsiCo – was an original investor in Transora
United Technologies – original investor in Cordeim
Dow Chemical – original investor in Elemica
Best Buy – original investor in WWRE (World Wide Retail Exchange)
Kraft Foods – was an original investor in Transora
Can you name another technology sector that has received so many strategic investments from Fortune 500 companies as B2B integration has?