by Martin Veitch

Book review: 8 Things We Hate About IT

May 02, 2010
IT LeadershipTelecommunications Industry

8 Things We Hate About IT How To Move Beyond the Frustrations to Form a New Partnership with IT By Susan Cramm (Harvard Business Press)

Perhaps it’s the physical location of the datacentre that has led to the ghetto-isation of IT. Maybe it’s something to do with IT people and lack of interpersonal skills. Then again, it might be the boneheaded-ness of management, but ever since there has been information technology in business, a chasm has existed between the worlds of IT and those of business decision-makers.

CIOs hate the chasm and maybe even deny its existence. But when all is said and done, in many businesses at least, there it is: a gaping void.

Enter Susan Cramm, a Harvard Business Review contributor and former CIO and CFO, who has written a valuable and concise new book on getting past these various ‘gotchas’.

Her mission is to “improve the quality of [operational leaders’] interactions with the IT organisation and the impact from their IT-enabled investments” and make IT leadership “a core competence throughout the organisation so that senior-level direction is executed effectively and frontline innovation occurs as a natural course of business”.

This then is a book primarily targeted at the non-IT professional but CIOs might consider buying in batches to spread the word of how IT works and to get a refreshingly direct view of what has caused so much mutual resentment in so many organisations.

Cramm’s might sound a quixotic quest but there are several immediate reasons for optimism when picking up this text. First, this is a book that dispenses with jargon wherever possible without ever pretending that IT is a dependable, predictable utility.

It’s also nicely broken up into bite-sized sections that lean on plausible business scenarios to delve into tricky dilemmas such as customisation versus standardisation, expense versus investment and quickness versus quality. Throughout, she scores valuable hits by exploring the precise cause of breakdowns in communication and causes of lingering resentment.

Cramm is a fine writer who doesn’t reach for flowery metaphors but keeps it simple, citing sources where sensible and pointing readers to more details in notes and appendices. She makes good use of checklists and diagrams and maintains a careful balance between outlining problems and suggesting directions towards solutions.

This is a good, important book. If you’re a CIO, read it for its useful guidance on the common causes for lack of mutual understanding between ops and IT. But don’t forget that this is a book for disseminating, not keeping to yourself.