Martin P Wilson

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Ideas, Innovation, Inspiration, Insight, IT

Facilitation and Mentoring for Success.

Briefing for Senior Managers on Creating Digital Technology Strategy

IT_Savvy_IT_for_ExecutivesIT Savvy aims to give senior executives a simple insight into the effective strategic use of IT and computer technology as a means of reducing cost or increasing profit.

A book such as this is needed as senior managers frequently avoid facing up to the challenges of digital technology due to a lack of understanding. The responsibility for information technology strategy is passed down to management with more tactical or operational responsibility. As result IT strategy is not fully aligned with top-level corporate strategic objectives. IT is therefore seen by top management as an unavoidable cost rather than as an investment for achieving competitive advantage.

The book starts with a rather long Preface and Acknowledgements of 25 pages that set out the background to the book but does not make it feel inviting. The acknowledgements are rather personal and effusive which some readers may find inappropriate.

The following chapters outline the road map to an organisation becoming IT Savvy as perceived by the authors as being:

  • Transforming IT from Strategic Liability to Strategic Asset
  • Defining Your Operating Model
  • Revamping Your IT Funding Model
  • Building a Digitized Platform
  • Allocating Decision Rights and Responsibility
  • Driving Value from IT
  • Leading an IT-Savvy Firm

These are all important and valuable issues that most organisations need to address if they are to make more effective use of IT as a strategic asset. IT Savvy then finishes with an Appendix testing: “How IT Savvy are You and Your Colleagues”?

Need for Executive Understanding of IT

This book could easily have been written 10, even 30 years, ago. Whilst the principals are sound the way IT Savvy is written plays to the Big IT agenda that has lead to the inflexible and monolithic systems that are so often still being implemented. Unfortunately therefore it could easily compound the problem of ineffective IT as solve it.

IT Savvy recognises and references some of the important requirements for effective IT such as a clear business operating model and proper engagement of IT management in strategic planning. However it rather skims over such matters and the repeated references to a digitized platform tend to reinforce a view that IT strategy is a technology matter – not the authors’ intent but a likely result. The authors recognise and argue that effective use of technology is led by business objectives and requires business transformation but they could make the point more forcibly and clearly.

Some Important Points but Disappointing Read

Indeed the whole book lacks the clarity that is needed to get through to busy senior executives. Although aimed at top management it is not sufficiently crisp and to the point to hold their attention and get the authors' message over that IT is a business issue. It is so high-level that it is difficult to find any guidance on what a senior manager needs to actually DO. It could almost have been written by consultants pitching for work to create uncertainty and a sense that it is all too complex for mere executives.

As a result IT Savvy is a book that will probably be passed to functional managers who have little if any real role in development of the corporate strategy. This will miss the point and perpetuate exactly the problem that Weill and Ross are seeking to address.

IT Savvy would have been better if it had more clearly stressed the business transformation and process led aspects rather than the frequent mention of a digitized platform. The emphasis on such apparently technical matters allows the IT industry and consultants to feed off the perceived complexity and continue delivering traditional monolithic integrated (expensive) technical "solutions".

There are many good and important ideas in this book but unfortunately not as strongly or clearly made as is needed to get the message over. A somewhat disappointing book and an opportunity missed. Unfortunately, much as there is a need for providing executives with a better understanding of the strategic potential of it, this book is probably not the answer. Especially for the many Chief Officers who would claim, and even believe, they are already doing it.

The Authors

Peter Weill is Chairman, and Jeanne W. Ross is a Director of the MIT Sloan School of Management 's Center for Information Systems Research.

IT Savvy (2009, ISBN:978-1-4221-8101-0) by Peter Weill and Jeanne W. Ross is published in hardback by Harvard Business Press at $29.95.

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