As the end of 1998 nears, most information systems managers are either deep in year 2000 testing or trying to help their companies use electronic-commerce technology.
During those rare moments when there’s time for work-related reading, try a fast immersion in the network economy with Carl Shapiro and Hal Varian’s Information Rules (Harvard Business School Press, Boston; 324 pages; US$29.95; paperback).
The two University of California at Berkeley professors clearly have made many trips to Silicon Valley and spent countless hours on the World Wide Web. They cover almost every aspect of successful electronic commerce, including pricing, managing intellectual property rights, locking in customers and obtaining feedback. No grandiose marketing theories here, just lots of practical dos and don’ts, illustrated by brief examples.
You also can familiarize yourself with all the latest concepts from “goldilocks pricing” to “value-subtracted versions” to “log rolling.” For those considering a plunge into electronic commerce, the book is a necessary prerequisite. For those who have built sites that haven’t achieved expectations, here’s where you might find out what went wrong.
TechnoLeverage, by F. Michael Hruby (Amacom, New York; 240 pages; $27.95; hardcover) goes beyond the Internet to cover an array of technologies that can provide a competitive edge.
Hruby, a consultant, uses short case studies to support his basic premise: Technology is critical in creating and holding a lead over others. The key to long-term profitability, he argues, is continued technological innovation, and Hruby offers a persuasive approach on how to achieve that.
Information technology managers should find Chapter 8 useful because it makes a strong case for constantly researching new technologies in your industry and others.
Of course, the trick is still in selecting the right technologies, and Smart Choices (Harvard Business School Press, Boston; 272 pages; $22.50; hardcover), a general management book, should help with that. The book is written by John S. Hammond, Ralph L. Keeney and Howard Raiffa, who, despite being academics, have achieved their goal of creating a “practical guide to making better decisions.”
Except for Chapters 7 and 8, the book is mercifully free of jargon and diagrams. Instead, the authors outline eight key steps in decision-making, the gist of which is to be proactive in defining the problem and your objectives correctly, to be creative in imaging alternatives and to be judicious in understanding the consequences, trade-offs and risks associated with those alternatives.
I especially recommend Chapters 5 and 6 on “Consequences and Trade-offs” and Chapter 9 on “Linked Decisions” because that’s where most IT-related decisions usually go awry.
Although there are no IT-specific case studies, there are many illustrative examples and one continuing case problem that ties the concepts together neatly. I would like to have read a more thorough discussion of the time element in decision-making, but otherwise the book is a clear work that IT managers and others should find useful.
Why don’t more firms do a better job of transferring knowledge and best practices throughout the corporation? A 1994 study by the American Productivity and Quality Center in Houston found that, especially in large corporations, knowledge transfer wasn’t so much hampered by people hoarding knowledge as by just plain ignorance about how things are done in other parts of the company. And when knowledge transfer did occur, it took an average of 27 months.
The group’s directors, Carla O’Dell and C. Jackson Grayson Jr. (with Nilly Essaides), have written a book on how to overcome the barriers found in the study. In If Only we Knew What We Know (Free Press, New York; 256 pages; $30; hardcover), the authors propose a knowledge-transfer model based on customer intimacy, product-to-market excellence and operational excellence (Chapters 4 to 8).
Of most relevance to IT managers are Chapters 9 through 12, which cover the enablers to knowledge transfer – culture, technology (mostly intranets), infrastructure and measurement. Five case studies illustrate the approach, followed by a four-phase implementation plan.
All in all, it’s a convincing argument that knowledge management is a viable strategy and one most companies could implement. It’s also a source of inspiration for firms whose intranets have stagnated.
O’Dell and Grayson touch lightly on measurement, but Mark T. Czarnecki at The Benchmarking Network Inc. provides a complete overview of the subject in Managing by Measuring (Amacom, New York; 288 pages; $34.95; hardcover). Benchmarking, perhaps the last legacy of the Total Quality Management movement, incorporates much the same message: You can’t manage what you can’t measure.
In clear, straightforward prose, Czarnecki provides a step-by-step plan for implementing a measurement program. In particular, Chapter 4 provides a solid overview of various types of measurements, from venerable techniques such as flowcharting to the newer value-added techniques to corporate scoreboards. Sadly, Chapter 10, on the use of systems in measurement, is too cursory to be of much use to IT managers.
There are numerous case studies and a Sample Benchmarking Policy contained in the appendix. If your firm is considering implementing or revising its measures of performance, this book is a must read.
(Allen is a partner at Summer Point Consulting in Mundelein, Illinois, which specializes in strategic planning, process redesign and technology assessment services. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)