what are the several ways that IT could provide a competitive advantage to a business?
This is a good question. IT can help any corporation in many ways, but the key is to hire some very competent people. There are horror stories of IT personnel who really do not know what they are doing and in the end cost the company more money. With that said, I will offer a few suggestion of how IT can benefit a business.
First, something as simple as a website can drive a lot of traffic to a company. The benefit of an internet presence is that you are always "open," and thousands of people can browse your merchandise or services at the same time.
Second, IT can create databases to help with customer relations and customer history. This will not only help customers in many ways, because the data can be analyzed to gain valuable information - spending habits, popular good, and the like.
Third, IT can provide a great network of communications internally to all the parts of a company. And if the company is large, it can provide many cost saving platforms like video conferencing.