Alignment, Alignment, Alignment

It's the topic du jour in management books. Some takes on how to achieve it; plus, a project management bible.

I read lots of IT management books and try to narrow down the best ones to recommend to Computerworld's readers. It drives my wife crazy because the books keep pouring in and filling up my cramped home-office (a.k.a. the Cockpit). Here are some keepers (and now I can finally clear out the others).

From Business Strategy to IT Action: Right Decisions for a Better Bottom Line

From Business Strategy to IT Action: Right Decisions for a Better Bottom Line, by Robert J. Benson, Thomas L. Bugnitz and William B. Walton (John Wiley & Sons; 328 pages, $45).

This book's central thesis is that an organization should invest in IT only when it directly supports business strategies and operational effectiveness. Tough to argue against that.

The book provides a road map for C-level executives, including CIOs, on how to manage and invest in IT to deliver business value. The authors, each of whom is a principal at The Beta Group, an IT consulting firm in St. Louis, describe a "strategy-to-bottom-line value chain" framework that can help guide a company from business strategies to the right IT decisions.

The authors touch upon areas you'd expect them to, such as advocating the use of portfolio management tools to help organizations prioritize IT and business investments. But they take those concepts a step further by suggesting actions readers can take to achieve the right results.

One of the features that I liked most is a section at the end of each chapter in which the authors pose questions that senior executives should ask themselves on a given topic, such as, "Are we investing new IT resources in the right places?"

This is very practical tome that takes a structured approach to slaying the old IT/business alignment dragon.

Manage IT as a Business: How to Achieve Alignment and Add Value to the Company

Manage IT as a Business: How to Achieve Alignment and Add Value to the Company, by Bennet P. Lientz and Lee Larssen (Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann; 304 pages, $44.95).

While From Business Strategy to IT Action seems to be geared more toward senior executives, Managing IT as a Business appears to be written for IT and business managers who are in the trenches doing the actual work. This book is very straightforward about the problems that have afflicted IT organizations over the years, such as business alignment shortcomings and the burden of managing day-to-day operations, and it offers some fresh ideas about how to deal with these issues. One, for example, is to rate the IT organization using comprehensive performance metrics that measure such variables as the duration of projects, the use of repeatable processes and the amount of knowledge transfer gained from vendors.

The book also tackles the misallocation of IT resources and the tendency among organizations to select projects for tactical rather than strategic reasons.

The authors have hands-on project management experience, and it shows. Lientz, a professor of information systems at the UCLA Anderson Graduate School of Management, was a project leader involved in the development of Arpanet, the precursor to the Internet. Larssen has served as an IT manager, business manager and consultant for more than 40 companies over the past 25 years. The techniques they draw upon have been implemented in more than 60 organizations around the world.

Managing Information Technology for Business Value: Practical Strategies for IT and Business Managers

Managing Information Technology for Business Value: Practical Strategies for IT and Business Managers, by Martin Curley (Intel Press; 350 pages, $49.95).

OK, I should first admit that Intel CIO Doug Busch recommended this book, which was written by one of his colleagues. But since Intel is widely recognized as a world-class leader in terms of how it manages IT internally, I figured it was worth a read.

And it is. Curley, who is director of IT innovation for Intel Information Technology in Ireland, focuses primarily on ways to measure and manage IT's business value.

He rightly notes that return-on-investment metrics can be notoriously difficult to extrapolate from IT. That's because so many factors -- from business and technical risks to the difficulty of quantifying strategic alignment -- can influence the outcome.

Curley suggests that IT and business leaders consider adopting a tool that Intel has developed called the IT business value index (BVI).

According to Curley, the BVI is a decision-support tool that, when combined with portfolio management techniques, can help organizations more accurately calculate the business value generated by an IT investment. Since the BVI contains a common methodology and vocabulary, managers can use it to compare disparate IT and business investments.

Curley offers other useful tips, such as creating an IT annual report to help detail prior-year achievements to senior management while outlining future challenges.

Considering Intel's success in IT management and the forward-thinking advice that Curley dispenses, this book is worth your time.

Project Management for Information, Technology, Business and Certification

Project Management for Information, Technology, Business and Certification, by Gopal K. Kapur (Prentice Hall; 528 pages, $86.60).

This is one of the most comprehensive books on project management. Not that this should come as a surprise, given Kapur's pedigree as the founder of the Center for Project Management and his decades of hands-on experience in working with everyone in the enterprise, from the CEO to end users.

I found myself dog-earing page after page with insights I wanted to revisit. ("During the last two decades, there have been numerous instances where management decided to train people in the use of project management software, without first training them in project management principles and practices.")

Kapur, who's a Computerworld columnist, lists some of the primary reasons for project failures, including unclear business objectives, complexity and risks discovered too late in the project life cycle. He then offers advice on how to achieve success. Readers will likely be intrigued by "the mocking post" concept found on page 49 of the book.

Copyright © 2004 IDG Communications, Inc.

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