The Book Corner - Review

The Book Corner

Featured in this issue:

The New CIO Leader

By Marianne Broadbent and Ellen Kitzis
Harvard Business School Press, 2005

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

The role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO) is changing rapidly. Through the halcyon days of the dot.com era the annual budget and influence of the CIO grew rapidly. However, in the current time of downsizing, cost-cutting, and economic uncertainty, many firms are reconceptualizing the role of the CIO as a business leader rather than a techno-visionary. Marianne Broadbent and Ellen Kitzis, two leaders from the Information Technology (IT) research firm Gartner, Inc., have recently weighed in on this discussion with a thoughtful, comprehensive, and practical new volume from Harvard Business School Press, The New CIO Leader.

Broadbent and Kitzis base their book on primary research with CIOs in organizations from around the world. Using the insights and best practices they have identified in their research, they review the wide array of responsibilities that lie before current CIOs. These responsibilities are divided into two essential management categories: demand for IT resources and supply of IT resources. These two essential categories are then further divided into a series of maxims for effective IT management such as “understanding your business environment,” “creating clear IT governance,” “developing a high-performing IS [information systems] team,” and “communicating your performance.”

The authors have done an excellent job of providing meaningful frameworks and practical models to shape the thinking of the CIO. They offer practical advice on issues that frequently trouble IT leaders. For example, one chapter is devoted to helping CIOs and other technology professionals communicate the business value of IT to shareholders and executives. I found this chapter especially helpful because Broadbent and Kitzis reveal a deep understanding of the technology opportunities confronting contemporary firms and offer numerous practical suggestions for overcoming the “language gap” that often makes communication between IS and business people so difficult.

The book is a “must-read” for anyone involved in justifying, evaluating, and prioritizing IT opportunities. In fact, The New CIO Leader is worth owning, not just by CIOs, but also by anyone interested in understanding and improving the relationship between IT and business.

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Business Under Fire: How Israeli Companies are Succeeding In the Face of Terror and What We Can Learn from Them

By Dan Carrison
AMACOM, 2004

Recommended by Charles W. Fojtik, DBA, Professor of Marketing

Tell me about the challenges in your business, about cut-throat competition and fickle stockholders who demand management change at the first sign of trouble, about markets in which customers threaten to leave over the slightest of errors. Then read Dan Carrison’s book Business Under Fire and let’s talk again.

Carrison describes the almost-surreal world of day-to-day business in Israel during the era of the intifada when a hotel survived despite occupancy rates of 26 percent; a metropolitan bus line persevered in the face of continuous TV-news shots of its vehicles in flames and customers lying bleeding and dying; and new technology ventures raised capital despite potential investors’ fears of visiting the operations in which they invested.

Using interviews and pinpoint analyses and writing in an engaging non-partisan, street-smart style, Carrison provides any businessman a fresh reminder of the old adage that necessity is clearly the mother of invention. He ends each of his chapters with explicit, highly valuable lessons for marketing, operations, personnel management, and life itself in the face of extreme adversity. A few examples include: “Never let the crisis become an excuse;” “Cooperate with your competitors during a crisis;” “Memorialize the victims.”

In concluding, Carrison notes that even in the face of such profound differences among the people of both countries, business people from Israel and Palestine continue to forge contracts, work for and sell to each other, and endeavor to keep the atrocities out of their thinking. His may be the most impactful example of how practical realities of business can be a unifying force that overcomes the political strife in our world.

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The Only Sustainable Edge: Why Business Strategy Depends on Productive Friction and Dynamic Specialization

By John Hagel III and John Seely Brown
Harvard Business School Press, 2005

Recommended by John Mooney, PhD, Associate Professor of Information Systems

Having enjoyed previous books by these authors (e.g., Out of the Box, Story Telling in Organizations, The Social Life of Information, Net Worth, and Net Gain), I enthusiastically volunteered to undertake the review of their latest creation. Notwithstanding its somewhat dreary yet provocative title, I was not disappointed.

Hagel (a former longtime McKinsey & Company consultant) and Seely Brown (former Chief Scientist at Xerox and long-term Director of Xerox PARC) bring their keen, analytic minds to bear on identifying the key elements of sustainable competitive advantage in highly open global business environments that are characterized by specialization, innovation, responsiveness, outsourcing, and “offshoring.” In such environments, efficiency improvements aimed at addressing margin squeeze will no longer be sufficient for competitive success. Consequently, the authors call for a “forceful reinvention of business strategy and the very nature of the firm itself,” in which the only path to sustainable competitive advantage will be an organizational capability to work in close collaboration with other highly specialized firms to “get better faster.” And yes, they do indeed discuss the role of IT in enabling the business processes that will be necessary to implement such a strategy!

The two sources of sustainable competitive edge in the future are productive friction and dynamic specialization. Productive friction seems to me to be a variant of the concept of “coopetition” (a combination of cooperation and competition) that was popular in the mid 1990s, but updated and extended to reflect the process-level opportunities for global competitive collaboration that now exist (à la business process offshore outsourcing). Dynamic (versus static) specialization refers to a process of continuous reconfiguration of resources and activities that is necessary for sustained strategic differentiation, responsiveness, and innovation.

Overall, this is a great book for anyone interested in a thoughtful and thought-provoking discussion about strategies for business innovation in contemporary global competitive environments. It also provides many insights for those seeking advice on management approaches to harnessing the potential for rapid incremental innovation that is offered by “productive friction” with highly specialized firms in China and India.

This is not another “strategy by bullet point” book based solely upon the personal experiences and opinions of its authors. To the contrary, it is very well grounded in established theories and contemporary practices of business strategy, and the authors support their arguments and assertions with references to primary or secondary sources. Even if you believe that you are already familiar with the book’s underlying concepts and assertions, Hagel and Seely Brown weave these together with their own original analyses and perspectives to present many interesting insights that will surely give you food for further thought.

For those who took an MBA class in strategy sometime in the past, this book will provide you with both a refresher course in what you should have learned and a timely update on some very interesting strategic alternatives that are emerging in a world of dynamic offshore sourcing.

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Joy At Work: A Revolutionary Approach to Fun on the Job

By Dennis W. Bakke
PVG, 2005

Recommended by Donald M. Atwater, PhD, Practitioner Faculty of Economics

Dennis Bakke’s passion is “making work exciting, rewarding, stimulating and enjoyable.” This is no small task. Whether it’s defining the mission and goals of a company, understanding and promoting leadership, redefining compensating and developing people, measuring success, or transitioning the organization from a top-down management culture to a “joy of work” culture, the effort levels are all substantial and on-going.

At AES Corporation, a worldwide energy company where Bakke and strategist Roger Sant put their ideas to work, four values were shared. These values were integrity, social responsibility, fairness, and fun. Of these, fun is perhaps the most controversial. To Bakke fun is a rewarding and creative work environment with jobs free of autocratic supervision and staff offices. Skeptics rightly ask where to draw the line between discipline and individual responsibility when supervision and staff offices are eliminated.

One of the reasons this book is important is because it offers readers the opportunity to explore values, such as those expressed by Bakke, and their relationships with business performance or success. The author himself cited a lack of diversification of investment resources, the overuse of debt versus equity, speculation and a lost focus on economic sustainability as the reasons that AES’s performance plummeted and the Board of Directors asked him to resign as its CEO.

In my view, sustainable results require the formation of effective goal-driven business communities. These communities require supervision, discipline, and responsibility to insure appropriate economic decision making. They also require that members remain engaged and focused during all phases of market cycles. Market downturns are inevitable, and they don’t necessarily lead to less joy at work. Ultimately, however, they can lead to no work, which generates a vicious cycle in which people end up questioning their company’s values.

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