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IT does/not matter, say PayPal and Wal-Mart

How can two companies come to such widely divergent opinions on technology?

It's fascinating that these two articles (here and here) were published within a few days of each other. They offer radically different suggestions as to how to get the most from one's IT. The one constant is that both companies involved (PayPal and Wal-Mart Stores) use a lot of open source.

On PayPal:

[T]he mix of distributed Linux and open source software and rapid application development of open source code have been an enormous success at PayPal. In a world in which both innovation and security are daily imperatives, Linux provides the technology backbone that has allowed us to enter so many new markets and continue to innovate in existing ones with unparalleled flexibility and responsiveness.

Now contrast this with Wal-Mart:

Furthermore, analysts say that Wal-Mart's reliance on homegrown IT systems--and its conviction of their superiority--needs to change. Ford and his team, they say, must bring in best-of-breed commercial applications, such as BI and price-optimization tools, that can help it compete with rising retail superstars such as Target, JCPenney and Tesco. "We cannot overestimate how much packaged software can help them right now," says Paula Rosenblum, an analyst and managing partner with Retail Systems Research.

No, this isn't an apples-to-apples comparison, but there's a distinct difference between the conclusions to which these enterprises are arriving. PayPal says that customization (facilitated by open source) is its lifeblood; Wal-Mart (consultants) suggests that customization (facilitated by home-grown IT) is stunting its death knell.

Yes, every company is different, but this glaring divide seems a bit much. I would expect to see more agreement than disagreement between these two companies, but they appear to be heading in opposite directions.

Perhaps one difference is that PayPal is at the top of its game and Wal-Mart is casting about for bogeymen to blame for its weakened performance? Or check out this possible explanation from CIO's Elana Varon on Wal-Mart's change of lanes on technology.