Friday, March 8, 2013

The Adventures of an IT Leader

Authors: Robert D Austin, Richard L Nolan, and Shannon O’Donnell

Publication: Harvard Business School Press

Review by: Vijay Sethi, Vice President IS and CIO, Hero MotoCorp Ltd.

I recently read this exciting book - The Adventures of an IT Leader

The book is a very light reading that takes one thru the role that a CIO and his team can or should play in an organization.

The entire message is conveyed in the form of a story where a company is struggling to recover from a period of slowing growth and falling stock prices and has a new CEO to spearhead the organization. The new CEO hand-picks company’s head of loan operations Jim Barton as the new CIO. Jim has no background in IT and is also one of the biggest critics of the current CIO and the IT organization. As Jim gets into his new role, he tries to understand what effective IT management is all about, starting from IT strategy, to dealing with the everyday challenges of the job, how to respond to crisis and make IT contribute to the organization while at the same time trying to meet expectations of senior management at one end, users at the other end while managing egos and politics within IT team.

While the authors have taken the route by explaining via introducing a new CIO in the organization – one who does not have prior IT experience – and show the challenges that he faces and how he handles the same – I think the learnings are relevant for all – whether a new or an old CIO – whether one with IT background or one with business background.

The key message as I see is about role of CIO. A CIO is first a business leader and then an IT leader. He or she needs to think and act like a business leader and not a technologist only. The key role is about aligning IT systems, projects, processes, people, mindset, vendors, technology etc to business objectives and goals and for that while one needs to work on technological aspects, managing relationships – be it with users, peers, senior management, vendors, employees etc. is very very important.

The book has a number of anecdotes and situations and as one reads them, one can easily relate to the struggles and day to day issues that each one of us goes thru in our jobs. As one reads about some of the frustrations and inner conflicts that Jim goes thru and his interactions with various people within and outside of the organization and how he manages, somewhere in one’s heart one can relate to most of them and there is definitely a learning at the end for us.

Another good thing that I liked about the book is that each anecdote or the issue that Jim is facing is analysed and a framework is presented on the IT management principles that I found very useful.

Overall, I found the book is all about what constitutes good IT leadership and how a CIO can create a well-managed, high performing IT organization that is highly responsive and one that provides great value to the business.

I would recommend this book to all IT managers (CIOs and their team members) to understand the role of their IT organisation and take lessons how each one of us can play a better role in managing our IT setups

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