The cover design and the writing style makes The Adventures of an IT Leader look and feel like a novel. As such it has many merits. The characterisation is good and the writing is engaging – it encourages the reader to keep reading - it is a better read than much pure fiction and it yet it still provides a lot of valuable advice.
The basis of the story is that Jim Barton a user department manager, is asked by a new CEO to take on the role of CIO even though he has no computing or IT background. The CEO has been brought in to turn the financial services company round and has sacked the previous long-term CIO. Barton reluctantly agrees to take on the role of managing exisiting services and developing an IT strategy.
So The Adventures of an IT Leader is an enjoyable read that will while away a long journey and provide both entertainment and valuable management insights. Many of the insights are provided by the ‘The Kid’, a youthful, game-playing visitor to Jim Barton’s favourite bar. Throughout the story he challenges Barton and makes him think about his role. In return our hero spends much of the story trying to recruit ‘The Kid’
The conversations with the Kid or with Barton’s girlfriend, a top-level management consultant, are usually at the end of a day when a new problem or challenge has arisen and provide the framework of the business scenario for the next chapter.
The hero faces a series of challenges, operational and strategic, of the kind that CIOs and other senior IT managers will recognise. Advice or background is added by the girlfriend, ‘The Kid’and the IT department senior managers. This content is structured to guide the reader’s thinking but does not give the answer as that will depend on the real-life circumstances.
The content is rich but not overwhelming and it is helped enormously by the novel format. It will appeal to readers who tend to avoid management self-help books but will not disappoint those who enjoy the more academic management titles. Indeed such readers may well find it a pleasant diversion and open their eyes to complex ideas presented simply and without pretentious language. More management books should be like The Adventures of an IT leader.
Once the story has been enjoyed The Adventures of an IT Leader should sit in the desk drawer of any, prospective, new or experienced CIO. This book should be kept close to hand to provide encouragement, refreshed thinking and the occasional diversion when the going gets tough and ideas are needed for how to deal with operational service problems or develop an IT strategy for the business.
As with any good novel there is an unexpected twist at the end of the book.
Robert Austin is professor at Copenhagen Business School and Harvard Business School where he chairs the executive education program for Chief Information Officers (CIO) with Richard Nolan.
Richard Nolan is professor emeritus at Harvard and the Philip M. Conduit Endowed Chair in Business Administration at the University of Washington.
Shannon O’Donnell is a PhD fellow at Copenhagen Business School. She is also a consultant in the Innovation Practice of the Cutter Consortium.
The Adventures of an IT Leader (2009, ISBN: 978-1-4221-4660-6) by Robert Austin, Richard Nolan and Shannon O’Donnell is published in hardback by Harvard Business Press at $29.95.
First appeared on Suite101