Books every CIO should have

Books every CIO should have

From a book about a fictional company, to an old familiar tome that spawned the business buzzwords of agility, dynamism and adaptive enterprises.

Mesh Collaboration Creating New Business Value in the Network of Everything

by Andy Mulholland and Nick Earle (Evolved Technologist Press)

This is an unusual book. Most books about business and technology have a premise and offer plenty of case studies salted with polemic to make that case appear convincing. However, Mesh Collaboration uses the example of Vorpal, a fictional company, to demonstrate how Web 2.0 technologies and innovative sourcing and other strategies can be used to good effect.

The device will be familiar to readers of Mashup Corporations: The End of Business As Usual, the previous book by Mulholland (with a different co-author), where we first met Vorpal and its CEO Jane Moneymaker.

In Mashup Corporations, Vorpal was struggling to develop a service-oriented architecture together with her esteemed marketing colleague Hugo Wunderkind. It succeeded thanks to non-traditional approaches such as mashups of component code to create on-the-fly programs.

This time the challenge is collaboration and once again Moneymaker et al are taking the road less travelled, using social networking tools, blogs, wikis and other consumer-oriented techniques to crack the problem of how to talk over LANs, WANs, the internet, extranet and intranet with peers, partners, prospects and, of course, customers.

As you might have already detected, plotting, style and characterization aren't the authors' strong points. Take this as an example: "'Sometimes I wish I had taken a slightly easier path than the corporate world. I mean, perhaps I should have followed your example and opened a flower shop,' Moneymaker says, leaning back into her rather plush couch. She has her shoes off and is relaxing for the first time that day. A glass of

wine sits idly on an end table and her husband has yet to arrive home."

Wine? Sitting idly? What is it supposed to be doing?

The prose might be stilted and the characters little more than avatars but with Mulholland a CTO at Capgemini and Earle a VP at Cisco what you do get is detailed knowledge from the field. The unusual framework grates at times but there is no doubting the deep knowledge of the authors on how disruptive technologies can affect businesses.

Business Focused IT

And Service Excellence By David Miller (BCS)

'IT governance' as a concept remains a relative novelty. You could argue that, marketing-wise at least, it is an opportunistic re-rendering of corporate governance aimed at appealing to the CIO.

What is not in dispute is that IT governance offers the chance not only to stay in line with rules and regulations but also to create best practices relating to information and asset management. The pain point in achieving this is complexity and interpretation of needs, which is where ISO standards come in handy by offering a fixed point of reference.

A field this tricky still needs a reference work, however, and IT Governance is emerging as the much-needed Bible of the sector. Now in its fourth edition, this hefty work is written by specialist consultants and the volume comes with the support of experts including no less a figure than Nigel Turnbull, author of the Turnbull Report which underpinned the UK's Combined Code for company directors.

David Miller is a respected figure in business service management and his latest book, called Business Focused IT and published by the British Computer Society, is a deep dive into the topic. Like IT governance, this is an immature field and Miller provides solid coverage and well chosen examples on his tour of the subject.

Also, unlike many theoreticians who rarely leave academia, Miller has worked at the sharp end of BSM as a consultant and interim, building on a wealth of experience at large companies.

In Search of Excellence

Lessons from America's Best Run Companies By Thomas J. Peters and Robert H. Waterman

The year 1982 came early in a period of rampant economic growth, admiration for Thatcherism and free-market economies and awe at the Japanese economic miracle, so it's probably no coincidence that it also marked the start of the age of the business author as guru. That author was Tom Peters, who, together with fellow McKinsey consultant Robert Waterman, wrote this multimillion-selling publishing phenomenon.

With this book, Peters emerged as the toastmaster for modern business management thinking. In Search of Excellence was the new Pied Piper's most influential tome, and he remains a hugely popular writer and speechmaker today.

The book had a simple premise: To unveil the secrets of outperforming companies. It lauded entrepreneurial management, developing 'champions' who are free to make business decisions, sticking close to customers, unique selling points, managing 'ambiguity', and cutting out interference and process overheads. It was against managing by numbers, the idea that organisations are identikit and therefore systems can be replicated, and the implicit suggestion that staff can be treated as swap-in/swap-out assets.

Also, at a time when many CEOs were little known outside their own business sectors and the perception was that America had a lot to learn from Japan, it helped draw the current image of the business leader as seer, superhero, tale-teller, motivator, company heartbeat and leader of men, all rolled into one.

Ironically, it turned out that Peters had feet of clay and several of the inspirational companies he feted ran into trouble within a short period of the book's publication. These included technology companies Data General, Xerox, NCR and Wang, and Rick Chapman's book about technology marketing flops even tilted at Peters: It was titled In Search of Stupidity.

In a way, however, even those failures vindicated Peters' message: That innovation, change and making mistakes - having a 'bias for action' in Peters-speak - were all signs of a healthy organisation.

If for no other reason, In Search of Excellence is an important book because it has been so widely read as to become a lingua franca for management thinking and because its mania for change and innovation chimed with the influx of IT and business process automation into mainstream organisations. Today's business buzzwords of agility, dynamism and adaptive enterprises have some lineage back to Peters.

But the book is also a reminder that there is no secret formula for making a great organisation.

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