A manual presents a comprehensive strategy that situates information technology within the broader context of the business it serves.
According to Maholic (Business Cases That Mean Business, 2013), this is simultaneously a thrilling and harrowing time to be a chief information officer in charge of IT strategy since the executive can be both “the beneficiary and besieged warrior of rapidly advancing technology.” A wide-ranging strategy is absolutely necessary, but a universally effective one that accommodates all circumstances doesn’t exist—“different current states, different desired future states and different organizational structures” render that impossible in principle. Instead, the author articulates with astonishingly impressive thoroughness and clarity the general framework within which such a scheme should be constructed. Maholic argues that an IT division’s purpose is to serve the greater mission of the organization that houses it, and so a CIO must think like a CEO, always understanding technology in light of the demands of business. The author uses an acronym to capture this orientation, SEAR, which represents the four pillars of any business strategy: sales, expenses, assets, and risks. “The SEAR imperative states that every proposal for significant, material projects or programs must define success by showing how the proposed initiative increases sales, reduces expenses, optimizes assets or mitigates risk,” Maholic asserts. That bottom-line orientation undergirds the overall IT scheme, which the author envisions as a three-dimensional cube, with its primary parts the foundations, and deliberations regarding technical, philosophical and practical concerns, and vexations the “forces opposing your strategy.”
Maholic has twice served as a CIO at different organizations and has worked for years as a management consultant, a depth of experience that radiates from this analytically rigorous and encyclopedic study. The book is written from the perspective of a manager of an IT division versus a technologist. One of the most strikingly original aspects of the work is the priority assigned to management philosophy over technology: “Technology is among the least critical aspects in driving the success of an IT Strategy. Technology is certainly relevant and holds a central place in the strategy. But the success of your IT Strategy is more dependent on the other Deliberation considerations than it is on technology.” Maholic doesn’t just provide philosophically broad counsel—he also furnishes helpfully detailed, immediately actionable instructions regarding a dizzying array of subjects, often accompanied by diagrams. Unfortunately, the volume can lose focus, and as a result it’s bloated to well over 500 pages—he could have dispensed with establishing analogies between IT strategy and the machinations of chess and military planning. But his prose is consistently accessible and mercifully unburdened by gratuitously technical, business, or IT jargon. And besides the work’s expansive scope, its principal strength is the relentless way it emphasizes the significance of “value velocity,” or the urgent need for a CIO to deliver measurable business results in a timely fashion. Maholic’s contribution is a standout in a crowded field and should become the authoritative source on the subject.
A consistently clear and notably thorough guide to IT strategy that should be on every chief information officer’s desk.