Mastering the Hype Cycle Jacke Fenn and Mark Raskino (Havard Business Press)
If you have ever been to a conference where the renowned US technology analyst firm Gartner is presenting you will probably know something about the Hype Cycle of Emerging Technologies. It offers a sort of Pilgrim’s Progress for IT’s new stuff from Technology Trigger to Plateau of Productivity via Peak of Inflated Expectations, Trough of Disillusionment and Slope of Enlightenment, and it nails what actually happens in the real world.
Too many analysts play safe, repeating predictable stuff or just relaying common sense. The hype cycle is that rare thing: a perfectly apt, readily understandable, visual and spelt-out way to understand a common trend. It is so good that it provokes the tell-tale question: why didn’t I think of that?
In a way it is a schematic that fits in with the perception of media behaviour: that journalists build up then knock down anything novel before letting them go on to reach their own level. And certainly the media has played its part in breathlessly pedalling the hype cycle.
The hype cycle is so much a part of the IT world today that it feels like it has been around forever. I was surprised to find that the term was only coined in January 1995 in a Gartner report entitled ‘When To Leap on the Hype Cycle’. It was the work of a recent recruit and former Logica consultant Jackie Fenn, and it became a guide for many companies to explain when it is time to plunk down hard cash for new (or new-ish, depending on risk for appetite) technologies. British Airways, for example, used it to act as a bridge between sales and marketing “to moderate overblown expectations and then bolster sagging confidence at different stages of a new technology’s hype cycle”.
In Mastering the Hype Cycle, Fenn and fellow Gartner co-author Mark Raskino channel field experiences of how the hype cycle has helped firms understand the merits and demerits of grabbing new technology by the throat. They boil down their advice to a six-point outline guide: Scope, Track, Rank, Evaluate, Evangelise, Transfer and this conveniently boils down to the memorable acronym of STREET (isn’t it handy when that happens?).
The hype cycle is probably the cleverest framework for understanding new technology’s cadence ever developed. This handbook takes the theory from IT suppliers’ marketing departments and provides CIOs with practical advice for putting it into action. Read it now before it lapses into the Trough of Disillusionment.
Reengineering The Corporation Michael Hammer and James Champy (Harperbusiness Essentials)
When Reengineering The Corporation was published in 1993, the book was hailed as a business classic, although since then the term ‘business process re-engineering’ has become associated with downsizing and widely regarded with suspicion as another fancy term for massive cost cutting.
The authors suggested that firms often required processes and culture to be overturned in order to improve performance, save money and create flexibility. In effect, organisational leaders needed to reassess their processes and systems as if they were new companies, booting out the old and replacing it with the new.
The book was written at a time of rapid change in office automation, with IT systems replacing manual processes thanks to the rise of personal computers and the arrival of local area networks, email and collaborative software that would help firms and their partners to retain knowledge, plan supply-chain changes and create process-welded platforms for nimble execution of business plans. Through a close working relationship between business process owners and IT experts, firms stood to make huge strides.
It is in some ways a book typical of the testosterone-driven decade that bore it. In largely ignoring iterative change, consensus building and nuance, it was a good fit for the macho culture of rip-and-replace that dominated the Nineties. As it turns out, that thinking was flawed and modern project management is now highly suspicious of ‘big bang’ changes and the perils of greenfield design principles being applied to veteran businesses.
Reengineering The Corporation may also have added to the perception of the CEO as all-powerful rainmaker and super-agent of change. Since then, the valuation of soft skills, knowledge dissemination and flat management structures has risen and stories from Enron to Lehman Brothers have cast doubt on firms that regularly reinvent themselves to the extent that they are unfamiliar from their previous guises.
Michael Hammer, who died in September, was a professor of computer science at MIT and appeared to treat organisational efficiency through binary eyes. In his later years, he admitted that some ideas and colourful statements made in interviews underestimated the value of people and the traumatic effect reengineering could have.
However, Reengineering The Corporation at the very least was a work that added a new dimension to the groaning bookshelves of business wisdom and it did much to set the scene for ERP platform companies like SAP to make companies the shape-shifting, process-led institutions they have become.
Thomas C. Redman (Harvard Business Press)
It is a truism to say that most of the successful companies of the last 20 years at least have achieved their position in large part because they placed an appropriate valuation on their digital assets and data. Conversely, many companies that failed did so because their investment in that area was insufficient, misguided or otherwise flawed.
Thomas Redman, a former Bell Labs veteran who has become a leading expert on data quality, points to a less-often recognised point: that to get optimal value out of information it must be available, presentable, legally accessible and used to gain competitive differentiation.
As Redman says: “Few organisations can answer even the most basic questions about their data, such as ‘How much do you have? or ‘What are they worth?’ Even worse, too much data are incorrect, out-of-date, poorly defined and otherwise unfit for use. They plague all of us and every organisation – increasing costs, angering customers and compromising decisions.”
Redman makes one remarkable claim: that poor-quality data costs organisations about one-fifth of their revenue. It seems hard to believe until you think of the volumes of misaddressed mail, lost memory stick stories and collapsed marketing campaigns that are out there.
This is a book for the general business reader that combs the data landscape from data cleansing to today’s data privacy issues. It will help him or her have better-quality conversations about better-quality data with information management experts.