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IT Savvy a business book about IT that executives should read

by Mark P. McDonald  |  June 11, 2009  |  8 Comments

Based on its title IT Savvy, executives may look past this book as another IT advocacy book.  You know the kind that says technology will fix everything.  Don’t make that mistake. 

IT Savvy, what top executives must know to go from pain to gain. HBSP 2009 by Weill and Ross is a business book about IT with a clear and concise argument of the role, purpose and contribution IT makes to the enterprise.  This is a book executives should read because it clearly states mostly in business terms how executives should think about, lead and fund IT.

Highly recommended for business executives, ignore the title and read the book.  CIOs and IT executives should read the book as well and buy copies for their business peers.  Corporate and IT strategists should read this book as it have several tools that will help them work together more effectively. 

The book’s principle term IT Savvy is defined as the ability to use IT to consistently elevate firm performance.  It’s a good workable definition, not so prescriptive as to lock out innovation, yet not so open as to mean anything to everybody.  The book builds on this simple definition with a number of very powerful observations and statements that matter:

  • You have to stop thinking about IT as a set of solutions and start thinking about integration and standardization.  Because IT does integration and standardization well
  • IT Savvy firms have 20% higher margins than their competitors.
  • You need an operating model before you can make sound investments in IT
  • IT funding is important, as systems become the firm’s legacy that influence, constrain or dictate how business processes are performed.  IT funding decision are long term strategic decision that implement your operating model

IT Savvy is based on three main ideas with some commentary from the reviewer.

1-    Fix what is broken about IT, which concentrates on having a clear vision on how IT will support business operations and a well-understood funding model.  These are two things required for executives to be accountable for IT and its contribution to raising business performance.  This is in sharp contrast to situations where IT is delegated and benignly neglected in the enterprise.  Sound advice. 

2-    Build a digitized platform to standardize and automate the processes that are not going to change so you can concentrate on the elements that do change.  This is counter-intuitive advice for people who have been told to use IT to chase innovation, but the platform idea is based on studying leading companies and what they do with IT.  It may not be sexy, but the platform does drive significant margin, operational and strategic advantage.

3-    Exploit the platform for growth by focusing on leading organization changes that drive value from the platform.  This is sound advice that is often left out of business and IT books.  Once you build a platform for scale, and then lead the company to drive scale across the platform to get benefits.  You would not build a house you intended to live in and then not live in it, but many companies build a platform and then run away from it.

The book concludes with an assessment, based on their research that you can take to determine how IT Savvy your business is.  The assessment is a very helpful tool for launching the conversation of how to raise business performance.

Strengths

The book is clearly written and very well supported with business based case studies of leading companies like UPS, Proctor & Gamble, Aetna, Seven-Eleven Japan, Pfizer, etc.  The cases make for good business based reading and an understanding of what an IT Savvy business looks like.

The book is focused with clear language that makes for an efficient yet in depth read.  This is the perfect book for executives who want to learn about raising performance, but do not have the time to study it in depth.  There also a number of powerful tools, graphics and frameworks that let you apply the ideas.

The book is not limited to IT.  In fact it features in depth discussions of business processes, shared services, management, measurement, operating models etc.  Covering these topics in conjunction with IT shows that the authors are clearly concerned with business performance first, second and third.

Challenges

Its minor but readers need to recognize that when you talk about the value of anything, like IT, you tend to refer to the thing a lot.  This book uses the word IT a lot and IT Savvy, which may give the reader the impression that it’s an IT book.  I would advice reading past that term and into what is changing in the business.

The book is short, small format, and only 182 pages.  For some that is a real problem, they take brevity as a sign that the book is about marketing the idea than driving the point home.  NOT THIS BOOK.  The book if focused and I thank the authors for not wandering in the latter chapters just so they could write the traditional 300-page business book. 

The book reprise some of the authors earlier works on enterprise architecture and IT governance.  This is ok as many readers will not be familiar with this high quality work and the pieces covered here fit well with the overall theme of IT Savvy and demonstrate the authors depth of knowledge.

Many of the main points of the book come at the end of paragraphs or chapters.  This makes the book a little difficult to skim-read, something that executives often do.  My advice is to take the time to read the words and look out for the nuggets of wisdom toward the end of the chapters.  Given that it’s a shorter book and the language is clear, I found the extra time to read more than paid off in the extra wisdom gained.

Overall, a good book, one that should become a foundation for understanding the role of technology in the enterprise.

Note: This review is also posted on Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Savvy-What-Executives-Must-Know/product-reviews/1422181014/ref=dp_top_cm_cr_acr_txt?ie=UTF8&showViewpoints=1

Category: book-review  cio  leadership  strategy  tools  

Tags: book-reviews  business-leadership  it-leadership  it-strategy  value-of-it  

Mark McDonald, Ph.D., is a Vice President and Fellow Emeritus in Gartner for General Managers Program.




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