Mark McDonald

A member of the Gartner Blog Network

Mark P. McDonald
GVP EXP
8 years at Gartner
24 years IT industry

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a former group vice president and head of research in Gartner Executive Programs. He is the co-author of The Social Organization with Anthony Bradley. Read Full Bio

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The Real Value of IT: a Book Review

by Mark P. McDonald  |  July 15, 2011  |  2 Comments

Hunter and Westerman’s book came out before we started blogging.  The Real Value of IT is one of the books that should be part of the CIO and IT leadership team’s tools.  Here is the original review that can also be found at Amazon.com

What is the business value of IT?

This is a perennial question that dominates executive discussions. Many have sought to answer this question with fancy algorithms, consulting practices, benchmark data and other tools. However, the question is basic to IT so it should have a basic answer – right? Absolutley and fortunately Hunter and Westerman provide much of the answer in this book.

The Real Business of IT is a clear and focused look at the issue of IT value and the approaches to capture, communicate and increase that value. This book is unique in several respects. It is a book written for CIOs largely based on the experience of CIOs.

The book features extended practices from leading companies like McKesson, Intel, Freescale, Deltak and many others. Building on those sources, Hunter and Westerman explain a simple virtuous cycle for driving IT value. They illustrate this cycle with about a dozen concepts that CIOs can use tomorrow to change the way they talk about value.

Hunter and Westerman make good use of these resources creating a book that is filled accessible information. One of the ways they do this is through using analogies from outside of IT. This not only makes the ideas easy to understand but also it gives the CIOs stories that they can use to inform and educate their business peers about IT.

This book helps CIOs avoid common value traps that limit the view of IT’s value in the enterprise. It then goes on to build the tools and techniques to demonstrate the value for money in IT, how IT helps run, grow and transform the enterprise, manage IT’s unit costs, and other key concepts.

The book is tuned and intended for CIOs and IT executives, rather than business executives. This is not to say business executives should not read this book, its just that it is not written for them. By focusing on CIOs, the authors avoid much of the complexity found in other books. This should be taken as a strength since that focus enables the authors to clearly provide practices and tools that CIOs can use.

The business value of IT sits in the conversations within your enterprise not in compliance with some industry standard. Therefore, I would suggest that CIOs use this book with their teams to build that conversation, in their terms and their situation.

This book is highly recommended for CIOs and IT executives all of whom will face the need to answer questions about the value of IT. In this book, CIOs will learn directly from the authors as well as the insights of leading CIOs and their examples. This is a powerful combination that makes the investment in The Real Business of IT a good value.

Strengths

Anchoring IT value solidly in terms of business performance. This is critical to establishing a clear and unequival way of measuring the value of IT.
Actionable and practical advise that comes directly from CIO experience.

Contains positive and negative examples on the business value of IT

Clearly illustrated tables and tools that CIOs can put into action quickly

References actual performance data and metrics

Uses non-IT analogies and stories that facilitate both understanding IT value issues and CIOs to use these analogies to make their own case in the enterprise.

Challenges

While the book is strong in terms of tools and advice, many of these specfics are generic. This means that CIOs will have to tailor these tools to their own situation. This is not a big weakness, as CIOs should not simply implement solutions blindly.

Business executives often express value in terms of financial measures and terms. While the book advises CIOs to focus on business performance, it could have done with some expanded financial content.

The latter chapters that discuss BPR and organizations change cover them in a traditional way. This reinforces the importance of creating value beyond more than just IT.

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