All About fruITion: Creating the Ultimate Corporate Strategy for Information Technology
Interview with the Author - Chris Potts
Published: May 1, 2008
Bob: This afternoon I have the pleasure of interviewing Chris Potts, Author of "FruITion: Creating the Ultimate Corporate Strategy for Information Technology" (Technics, 2008). Technics Publications is operated by frequent TDAN.com contributor Steve Hoberman of "The Data Modeling Addict" feature column fame.
Chris, First of all -- Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today.
The title of your book, especially the sub-title, gave me the initial impression that this was just another traditional book on IT strategy. After speaking with Steve (and before reading the book), I learned that my thoughts could not be further from the truth. Please tell my readers why and how this book is different and tell them the main messages you are trying to get across.
Chris: It’s a privilege to have this opportunity to speak with you. My first job in the world of IT Strategy was as a Data Architect, back in 1994, so it’s a particular pleasure to be interviewed by TDAN.
I’m really happy if people start by thinking that fruITion is a book about traditional IT strategies because that is where the story begins. Very rapidly however, the people in the book learn that those traditional strategies are no longer what their company executives value – in fact, quite the opposite. That’s when fruITion takes its first unexpected turn – the executives decide on their own, very different, corporate strategy for IT and the CIO has to decide whether he wants to lead them in executing that strategy.
One of the main messages that I’m offering is that true innovation in the relationship between IT and everything else may, at times, be better driven by people outside of IT. By the way, I’m sure that message must also be true of other business disciplines – not just IT.
Bob: This book is not only beneficial to the reader but it is tremendously enjoyable to read. Several people that I know have read the book and told me that they finished it the same day or weekend that they started. If you had a single message to provide to your readers to prepare them for reading your book, what would it be?
Chris: Get ready for a story in which many of the established orthodoxies around IT strategy and management will be roundly, and constructively, challenged; and read between the lines if you want to.
Bob: The characters (players) in fruITion obviously come from your years of experience working with executives and CIOs in formulating and executing corporate IT strategies. Can you fill us in on how you selected the traits of Ian, the person who narrates the story? Does he come from 'real life' experiences or is he a combination of many experiences? What can you tell us about that?
Chris: I like your idea of the characters as players! I discovered Ian by thinking about all the CIO’s I’ve ever met, synthesising the similarities and differences between their professional characteristics and personal traits. Once I got started on the story, Ian then created himself – if that makes sense. As events unfolded, Ian’s character developed through his interactions with other people and in the way he narrates what happens.
I’m sure nobody will find that they are exactly like Ian. Which begs the question: faced with a similar challenge from your Chief Executive Ofiicer as Ian gets from his, and given you’re not Ian, how would you handle it?
Bob: In your opinion, what are some of the primary issues facing the CIO of today's corporations?
Chris: In terms of a CIO’s valued contribution to corporate strategy, the issue many face is that their colleagues currently see them as technology-centric and primarily a ‘quasi-supplier’ of operational IT services. Early in fruITion, some of the CIO’s executive colleagues confront him with these perceptions as one of the first steps towards him dealing with them differently. For any CIO who is perceived this way, corporate-level strategic leadership can be an heroic uphill battle rather than the norm.
It’s a reflection of how corporate strategies for IT have so far evolved. The first generation were focused on technology deployment and in their day radically altered the corporate landscape. However, as the bulk of spending on IT shifted from investment in new and exciting technologies to maintaining existing ones, strategies for IT refocused onto operational efficiencies. Now, the IT-savvy consumer is becoming king, so we’re into a third generation of strategies for IT. These are about companies harnessing the energy of everyone’s personal ‘strategy’ for exploiting IT without losing overall control of IT costs.
So leading on from this evolution, the other primary issue facing CIOs is discovering the innovations that will rapidly move them and their people on to the next generation of corporate IT strategy without losing the benefits that previous strategies have given us. Often CIOs look to each other for inspiration, either directly or via IT industry analysts. One of the challenges that fruITion considers is the extent to which CIOs should look to their executive peers and to mainstream corporate strategists instead.
Bob: Will CIOs benefit from reading fruITion and how? What do you expect will be the reaction to the book of the readers that surround the Ians of the world?
Chris: I’ve no doubt that CIOs will benefit from reading fruITion. There’s much talk about the future role of the CIO and what differentiates it from a CTO or IT Director. Meanwhile, there’s a very obvious gap in many companies’ strategies for creating maximum value from their investments in business change, and CIOs are in principle best positioned to fill that gap. Indeed, some CIOs are already moving into the leadership of business change. fruITion explores the essence of that role, what personal journey of change a CIO may need to undergo to be successful, and what he or she might need to give up along the way.
So far the reaction I’ve had to fruITion from people who surround CIOs has been fantastic! As well as people working in IT, that includes others in roles as diverse as Chief Operating Officer, Managing Director and CIO head-hunter. As well as liking the book’s format, it offers them much food for thought. For some, that includes where their own role may be heading in future.
Bob: Is this the reaction you are looking for?
Chris: I’ve not written fruITion to provoke a particular reaction. Different people are finding it valuable for different reasons, which is excellent.
Bob: This book is an extremely fast and (as I stated before) fun read. You wrap up each chapter, that basically walks us through two week's time, with a series of observations. Where did these observations come from? How can these observations benefit the readers?
Chris: I added the observations after finishing the story. I wanted them to be spontaneous, as far as possible making them as a reader rather than the writer. So the very last stage of writing involved working through the finished manuscript with a highlighter pen, picking out what I considered to be the main messages buried in the story. Then I chose the ones for each chapter that I felt offered the best summary.
One of the features of these observations is that they are in a fairly random sequence. They are driven by the flow of the story. That’s a very different experience, and more lifelike, compared to a book where the chapters are stepping through a predefined framework.
I expect every reader will have many more observations of their own. Get your highlighter pens ready! Also, we’ve made sure that there’s plenty of white space in the book, leaving room for the reader not only to read between the lines, but to write there as well.
Bob: Next to last question ... What drove you to write THIS book THIS way?
Chris: Two reasons.
Firstly, I’m not very good with many business books. That’s either because the author has told me the answer in the first couple of chapters, or because he or she is approaching a mainly non-technical subject using the style and format of a technical book. I like stories best, so I decided to write one.
Secondly, my experiences in working on scenario planning. The essence of that process is also about writing stories, and then exploring what those stories have taught us.
Bob: Chris, Thank you again for spending time with me today. Do you have any last words that you want to share with the readers of The Data Administration Newsletter?
Chris: It’s certainly been a privilege to speak with you, and thank you for your interest in my book. For the readers of The Data Administration Newsletter, fruITion is a book that might lead you to consider this question (which I recently explored with the DAMA Group in London, England): if you’re an information professional currently working in IT, and that were to change, where else in the company would your work contribute as much value - if not more?
Bob: The book is available through Technics Publications by ... or Amazon.com ... Steve or Chris -- please fill in. Can we look forward to seeing an excerpt of this book on the pages of TDAN.com?
Bob: Thank you again. TDAN.com readers ... Please consider getting a copy of FruITion and let me know your thoughts about the book. Chris, Good luck. I hope to keep in touch.
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