The Book Corner - Review
2005 Volume 8 Issue 1

The Book Corner

Featured in this issue:

The IT Payoff: Measuring the Business Value of Information Technology Investments

By Sarv Devaraj and Rajiv Kohli
Financial Times/Prentice Hall

Recommended by Michael Williams, PhD, Assistant Professor of Information Systems

Identifying the return on investment (ROI) for information technology (IT) investments can be quite a puzzle. The value propositions for IT investments are often complex and difficult to achieve. Yet the lure of improving efficiencies, winning new customers, and gaining competitive advantage continues to draw firms of all sizes to IT as a strategic competitive weapon. Into this puzzle, Sarv Devaraj and Rajiv Kohli offer a surprisingly clear and succinct review of many of the ways IT investments provide value to business.

The IT Payoff offers a concise and helpful review of important topics ranging from the various measures of IT payoff (e.g., cost-benefit analysis, ROI, and real options analysis), to a comprehensive and prescriptive model for realizing how to attain maximum payoff from IT investments. The book strategically chooses to be a comprehensive introduction to how IT can provide business value rather than an extended treatise on the nuances of accounting, economics, and strategy.

This book is a light read and well worth the few hours it takes to digest. It strikes a sound balance between reviewing basic concepts for measuring IT payoff and prescribing managerial action for making IT achieve business results. It is a good conversation starter that can help an IT staff learn to speak “business” while simultaneously alerting business managers to some of the specific challenges related to finding the ever-elusive IT payoff.

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The Commanding Heights: The Battle for the World Economy

By Daniel Yergin and Joseph Stanislaw
A Touchstone Book, Published by Simon and Schuster

Recommended by Donald Atwater, PhD, Practitioner Faculty of Economics

Most managers see the 21st century marketplace as a fast-moving and changing flow of economic activities. George Shultz, former Secretary of State under Ronald Reagan, noted “Markets are relentless.” The Commanding Heights points out that global changes over the last fifty years have also been relentless. Today, the Internet, or information highway, and the need for speed of change are so fast that some economists claim that the marketplace conversation is actually broken. The authors remind us that there are important linkages between marketplace changes and institutional changes. The “new rules of the game” are connected to changing laws, regulations, standards, norms and values. The hallmark of the 21st century marketplace is the mobile economy. Capital moves at electronic speed. The speed of fast, reliable information and communications technology pushes companies to draw on people and resources in multiple countries around the world.

But when are too much mobility and speed ineffective? The authors make a strong case that declining values and ethics will eventually increase market mistrust. When the balance of confidence is upset, institutions will change and the marketplace will change. This assertion rings as true in 2005 as it has during the last fifty years. While some will argue that economic thinking has not reached commanding heights, you know a milestone has been reached when a book is made into a PBS series. So you can read this book by watching. What a novel idea!

Two books recommended by GBR reader Georganne Shibata, MA 2003 in Education Technology from Pepperdine Graduate School of Education and Psychology

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Slack: Getting Past Burnout, Busywork, and the Myth of Total Efficiency

By Tom DeMarco
Broadway Books, Random House

Recommended by Donald Atwater, PhD, Practitioner Faculty of Economics

Tom DeMarco brings a new dimension to the term slack in this book. He explains the difference between slack and busywork and reaffirms the necessity for slack in every successful organization. “Slack is the degree of freedom in a company that allows it to change.” DeMarco has conveniently divided his book into four easy reading sections with their own “mini-themes.” I found Part Four on “Leadership and Growth” a thought provoking and inspirational how-to guide. Slack is directed toward managers at all levels. It is especially a wake up call to bad management and poor managers. Dilberts of the world—look-out!

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Visionary Leadership

By Burt Nanus

Recommended by Donald Atwater, PhD, Practitioner Faculty of Economics

Before taking on “The Donald,” what every aspiring apprentice should read is “Visionary Leadership” by Burt Nanus. Admittedly, leadership is the key to winning at any game in management, and although every manager has some sort of leadership capability—weak or strong, good or bad—leadership without an achievable vision goes nowhere. Using identifiable examples, Nanus details an important sense of direction within an organization. In chapter seven, Nanus lays down the “Formula for Visionary Leadership,” which in actuality is a combination of all the key subjects studied in management: communications, organizational change, empowerment, and strategic planning. These are important single elements, yet when combined with a vision meeting the prescribed criteria, the result is powerful and compelling visionary leadership. The author never lets us forget that “human behavior in organizations is very much shaped by a shared vision for a better tomorrow.” As CEO and writer Alex Lightman has so simply stated, “Understand the world, then change it or lead it.”

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