Novice's guide to IT management sends you elsewhere

If you're reading this review then you've probably already answered a key question asked by this book. That is, are you cut out to be an IT manager?

Manage IT by Joe Santana and Jim Donovan (Lahaska Publishing, $US14.95)

If you’re reading this review (and heed

Computerworld’s tagline – “The voice of IT management”), then you’ve probably already answered a key question asked by this book. That is, are you cut out to be an IT manager?

You might have said yes, but be finding the role an uncomfortable fit. In that case, the book also sets out to help newbie IT managers adapt to the job description.

To begin with, it offers the discomfiting – and undoubtedly true – assessment that fine IT practitioners will not automatically make accomplished IT managers. The technically adept should consider this before volunteering to run the department.

When the wrong person is in the job – any job – this leads to “disengagement”. According to Manage IT’s authors, this is a phenomenon which

Gallup Management Journal has costed in the US at $US350 billion a year. If we adjust that figure for New Zealand’s population, it would suggest the problem drains this country of almost $9 billion – surely a national crisis.

Putting aside the reliability or otherwise of those numbers, being the wrong person for the job is not going to be a happy situation. The big difference between the IT practitioner and the manager is that the former’s skills tend to the technical and the latter’s are people-focused. The IT manager must be able to communicate effectively with senior managers, peers and team members. The IT manager should be more interested in turning staff into stars than in doing star turns. They should display and inspire confidence.

That’s what you learn from this book’s opening chapter – and much of it would seem rather obvious. Subsequent sections deal in detail with the functions of the IT manager. Unfortunately, the quality of the advice is patchy.

First up is the need to align IT with business goals. In case the subject didn’t come up at your job interview or induction, the authors suggest you could take a look at your employer’s website to see what the organisational goals are. Frankly, as a key executor of the organisation’s strategy, I would have thought it vital to understand it and agree with it before taking on the job.

Sections on dealing with staff provide practical guidance on matters such as hiring and providing feedback on performance. The US, where this book originates, has a whole industry dedicated to people management, and the authors encourage making use of one outfit, The Ken Blanchard Companies (whose “chief spiritual officer”, Ken Blanchard, co-wrote the

One Minute Manager, claimed to have sold 17 million copies), for further help.

In fact, suggesting other avenues for further help is something the book does a lot of. When it comes to learning the art of IT buying, it recommends following the example of someone who’s good at. If you’re hoping for advice on RFP or tendering processes, it’s not in here; instead, the authors say contact peers (which you might do by joining the New Zealand Computer Society, for example) and become familiar with industry analysts and the trade press (an angle we endorse, naturally enough).

Altogether, this is a book for the novice; more a guide for the technical IT person of what they can expect from IT management than a detailed handbook for performing the role. As such, it does a satisfactory job.

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