It seems like there are more self-help books for CIOs than any other profession on the planet. Unfortunately, most of these books deliver little more than trite pieces of advice on leadership that are heavily borrowed from any number of popular "management by book-of-the-month-club" titles.
A new book called "The Real Business of IT" that is being published by Harvard Business Press breaks that mold.
Richard Hunter, a vice president at Gartner, and George Westerman, a research scientist at MIT Sloan School of Management's Center for Information Systems Research, outline the fundamental business concepts that a prospective CIO needs to master in a little red book that is all of about 200 pages.
Beyond basic principles, such as finding and measuring business value, the authors offer some practical advice, including not waiting for the business side to discover its appreciation for IT. The successful CIO relentlessly reminds the business side about the value of IT because it's easy for the business side to take IT for granted when things are going well.
More importantly, the authors caution IT executives to carefully avoid "value traps" that stem from concepts such as IT being a service delivered to internal customers. Such an approach can easily lead to a "the customer is always right" approach to managing IT. The problem is that the customer is not always right, so such expectations can easily lead IT to fail in the face of unreasonable expectations.
According to the authors, successful CIOs are all about showing value for IT investments in a language that business people understand. Unfortunately, Gartner estimates that only about 25 percent of CIOs have any kind of business background. That means far too many of them get wrapped up in a silo mentality about the technology that only serves to relegate the role of IT to being little more than a maintenance activity in the eyes of the rest of the business.
Instead, CIOs need to be squarely focused on showing business value for the money invested and make sure that they can articulate that business value back to the business.
Of course, reading this book is not going to suddenly eliminate the historic divide between the business and IT. But it does provide a guide for navigating the business landscape. And as the authors note by quoting that great philosopher Yogi Berra, "if you don't know where you're going, you'll wind up somewhere else."