The IT Value Stack
A Boardroom Guide to IT Leadership
by Ade McCormack (Wiley)

Ade McCormack (below) has built a reputation as one of the few writers able to create a neutral language that is readily understood by hard-core technologists and business leaders alike. Perhaps best known for his Financial Times column and a previous book, IT Demystified, McCormack puts a ton of practical knowledge to good effect, from a career within technology at Logica CMG to his current role as CIO coach and business IT advisor.

In The IT Value Stack, he’s at it again, tackling the vexed subject of how companies assess the value they extract from IT. Typically, McCormack isn’t backward in coming forward. “Much of IT’s reputation is sadly deserved”, he states, adding that part of the blame should be attached to “socially inept technologists who seem incapable of com-municating with the users”.

However, this is not a book that lashes IT people unfairly and McCormack also takes aim at “unscrupulous salespeople who, through a toxic combination of not quite knowing what they sell coupled with aggressive sales targets”, damage the relationship between vendor and buyer.

As for IT vendors, he criticises “technology providers that regard delivery as a by-product of their primary business, which appears to be sales”. Board members and CEOs get a dose of McCormack’s salty language too, especially those who think “email works so why does he [the CIO] want to talk to me”.

McCormack holds robust views. IT often merits its reputation for gobbledegook and lacking service but boards need to understand IT because it offers them enormous opportunity, he suggests. A lack of IT professionalism is a real problem, he contends, and he is particularly interesting on the nature of the IT industry, suggesting that people working in IT suffer from low self-esteem.

I’m not at all sure that McCormack isn’t over-egging his argument here but it’s characteristic of the punchy style employed throughout.

This is a solid work to dip into to remind yourself or others that there may be a third way that lets the board understand IT and IT understand the board.

The IT Value Stack , at Amazon The IT Value Stack

Groundswell Winning in a World Transformed by Social Technologies
by Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff (Harvard Business Press)

Groundswell, the work of two Forrester Research analysts, is a book that was begging to be written. It covers the impact social technologies are having on the business sector and, since the two are often assumed to be polar opposites, it is a necessary addition to the groaning bookshelves of IT literature.

The authors, Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff, do justice to the subject, examining the ways that consumer-orientated technologies such as blogging, video-sharing sites, wikis and the like can be tapped to create grassroots marketing support. As you might expect of seasoned analysts, this book has plenty of case-study material that provides persuasive insights into how companies have used social technologies, from Dell’s engagement with user forums for product development to Procter & Gamble’s community website to market tampons.

As the authors note: “The groundswell is broad, ever shifting, and ever growing. It encompasses blogs and wikis; podcasts and YouTube; and consumers who rate products, buy and sell from each other, write their own news, and find their own deals. It’s global. It’s unstoppable. It affects every industry – those that sell to consumers and those that sell to businesses – in media, retail, financial services, technology, and healthcare. And it’s utterly foreign to the powerful companies and institutions that run things.”

If you know of a leader bewildered by social tech-nologies, or if you just want to compare what you already know against peers, this an excellent place to start. It’s also a well produced book that is easy to dive in and out of.

Groundswell at Amazon Groundswell

Crossing the Chasm Marketing & Selling High-Tech Products to Mainstream Customers By Geoffrey A. Moore

First published in 1991, Crossing the Chasm is a book that is primarily about marketing, and technology marketing in particular, but such is its resonance that it has become a classic text for anybody seeking to understand the way that new types of products achieve, or fail to achieve, popularity.

Like most business classics, it has spawned phrases that are used every day in MBA courses and conferences the world over. “Crossing the chasm” refers to the process of products moving from the enthusiast to mass market, thereby bridging the gap between niche appeal with attendant small revenue and mainstream audiences with volume sales. Or, in the language of Moore – using earlier writers’ research into the “technology adoption cycle” – from innovators through “early adopters” to “early majority”, “late majority” and laggards.

Using this as a framework, Moore goes on to explain why some products manage to make it over the chasm and others do not, based on the theory that when “disruptive” products appear, there occurs a chasm between the innovators and early adopters and the critical early majority.

During the Nineties, the book became the bible of technology marketers and a mainstay of business-plan writers keen to prove that their products would not suffer from limited appeal. Moore’s thinking is still widely touted today, even if many who lean on it have never opened a copy of the book itself. The laptop computer, for example, could today be said to be at the innovator stage in the 1980s, reached the early adopter stage in the early 1990s, hit early majority in the late 1990s and could today be said to be in the late majority age.

Does Moore’s book still hold up today? For many products, yes, but the arrival of the internet and search-related advertising has moved the goalposts a foot or two. There are many sites that enjoy huge volumes of traffic but struggle to monetise that audience. Twitter, for example, where subscribers inform others of their whereabouts and activities, has perhaps 1.5 million users. This would make it mainstream in many people’s minds but in a market where much of the developed world is the potential audience, is it really mainstream or is it niche? And even if it is mainstream, or becomes mainstream, how will that popularity translate into revenue and profit?

Moore has gone on to write other influential books that coined their own marketing-speak vocabularies, most notably his excellent study of hypergrowth, Inside the Tornado, but the 300,000-plus selling Crossing the Chasm is his classic.

Crossing the Chasm at Amazon
Crossing the Chasm