Wrench In The System, available from Wiley
What's sabotaging your business software and how you can release the power to innovate
By Harold Hambrose (Wiley)
It's always nice to get a surprise, even if it does come through the unglamorous process of digging through the CIO slush piles for volumes worthy of the editorial eye. This time, we pulled out a plum in this terrific book by the founder of a US-based design agency examining the vexed question of why business software tends to disappoint.
It's a question that most of us have given up trying to answer. Because the wrong supplier got chosen? Because IT has no idea about business? Because business has no idea about IT? Because the wording of the RFP was bad? Because things changed part-way through the selection or development process? Who knows, so we shrug and creep from project hell to the new world... of what also turns out to be project hell.
All of these attempted answers have some validity but it's rare for a writer to come up with such a cogent, trenchant polemic as Hambrose manages here. As you might expect, Hambrose focuses on software design, suggesting that software given to users all too often fails to reflect the way they work or want to work. So it falls into disuse, is detested or management comes up with some spurious justification for the enormous amount of money invested in it.
The sums are huge, of course, and I'm sure I'm not alone in surveying the chaos and vast sums and half expecting to see the Mad Hatter arrive for a tea party. Hambrose comes to our collective rescue with an attempt to explain the problem and suggestions for fixing it. His call is for better understanding of human behaviour and roles and for meshing business process experts, designers and technologists. It's an argument that might sound familiar - clichéd even - but the devil is in the detail and Hambrose articulates that detail well.
What is attractive here is that Hambrose doesn't put himself in a particular camp. He is as fiercely critical of design snobs as of anybody else, recalling artistic types at agencies who cared more about injecting their personalities into designs than making them usable.
As well as being a fine read, this is a painstakingly, rather wonderfully, illustrated book.