October 15, 2008 By Tod Newcombe, Editor
A challenge of reviewing books for public CIOs is finding titles that fit the topic. Little has been published about public-sector IT leadership and since interest in digital government has begun to flag in the last couple of years, fewer and fewer publications focus on this critically important niche.
But it turns out the public sector isn't the only IT area to suffer this problem. Few works of merit are ever written about IT's role in any organization, even the private sector. The reason? It's a cost center, not a revenue producer. When it comes to helping organizations increase revenue, publications are a dime a dozen. That's not the case with IT, which is typically ignored when things go right and called on the carpet when they do not.
George Tillmann, a former CIO of Booz Allen, hopes to level the publishing playing field somewhat for IT with The Business-Oriented CIO: A Guide to Market-Driven Management. Despite its title, the book is written to help CIOs from all sectors who have to maintain IT as an overhead function. Tillman explains: "If one is going to get some expert help on running a cost center, then overhead managers have to adapt the advice given to revenue generators. The chief information officer will need to take the for-profit concept of user satisfaction ... modify supply chain management to accommodate IT's technology procurement ... take the best thinking, of the best minds about running a for-profit business and apply it to a cost center [my emphasis]."
Tillmann delivers this advice in three parts. First, he breaks down the fundamentals in the relationship between IT and the business side of organizations. This involves looking at the end-user's perception of IT and IT's perception of its internal customers, as well as the role of governance bodies, such as boards of directors, to help improve governance effectiveness. The first section also includes the proper role of IT strategy and planning in response to business plans and examines portfolio management, a concept that is just beginning to catch on in the public sector.
Part two of The Business-Oriented CIO provides best practices for CIOs who want to achieve better services with their end-users and senior business management. Some of these chapters fit squarely with the needs of public CIOs. For example, he points out that while IT does an effective job managing assets, IT staff and processes, it's a disappointment when managing internal customers. To turn the problem around, Tillmann presents best practice thinking to better understand customer needs, interpret their implications and respond in the best practical way. The same situation exists for performance management, which IT does well when measuring the performance of its technology, but is considerably less effective at measuring how well the same technology meets customer demand.
Somewhat less effective are the chapters on market intelligence, which focuses on knowing your competition, and service-offering management, which looks at the best practice among vendors of using product managers and how that practice can be retrofitted to work in IT departments.
Part three of the book is for IT organizations that want to reach the next level of competency and success. One critical skill CIOs must learn is understanding IT's core competencies and using them to develop the core services that are critical to the enterprise. The other transformational lesson to be learned involves customer service: What exactly is it? How do you measure it? What is its place in the IT world? Finally Tillmann closes with a chapter of best practices from IT organizations that have succeeded in adopting for-profit strategies to the cost center known as IT.
The book's goal is not to make IT into a for-profit business, but to make CIOs question the ways IT is currently perceived and managed. Hopefully that exercise will lead government CIOs to change IT from an expensive cost center into an integral part of government's business-strategy team.
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