There’s a really thought-provoking article by Michael Shrage in the current issue of Technology review. Shrage argues that the prime driver of IT innovation in the US has not been Microsoft or Oracle or Sun but… Wal-Mart. And this isn’t just his top-of-the-head opinion, but the conclusion of a team of economists led by Nobel laureate Robert Solow. Here’s an excerpt from Shrage’s piece:
A recent McKinsey Global Institute report analyzing the spurt in U.S. productivity growth from 1995 to 2000 proffers provocative statistics that should give champions of ‘supply-side’ innovation pause. ‘By far the most important factor in that is Wal-Mart,’ reports Robert Solow, the MIT Nobel Prize-winning economics professor emeritus who chaired the report’s advisory committee. ‘That was not expected. The technology that went into what Wal-Mart did was not brand new and not especially at the technological frontiers, but when it was combined with the firm’s managerial and organizational innovations, the impact was huge.’
Shrage goes on to ponder what would happen if Wal-Mart decided to plump for Open Source software in its next round of IT upgrades.