Business Book Of The Week: Sleep-inducing visit to dullness.com
Wednesday 12 May 1999
by Jeff Papows
(Nicholas Brealey, pounds 18)
JEFF PAPOWS is President and CEO of Lotus, which makes him one of the IT industry's demi-gods and an expert in his field. He's heavily in demand on the US business conference circuit and his brand of inspirational rhetoric is doubtless a powerful motivator when delivered from the podium. But translate it, as I suspect he's done, more or less directly from the conference hall to the page, and the impact is quite different. is aturgid, overlength, assertion-riddled, repetitive, impenetrable, brain-deadening read.
It has some good points too, mainly that Papows obviously cares about the (not always positive) impact of IT on individuals. He recognises that IT professionals can't always see the wood for the trees or the bark for the beetles and sometimes forget that ordinary, fallible people are IT end-users. And he is clearly a man who desperately wants to help others make sense of IT.
This could have been, and perhaps is for those who thrive on acronyms and management buzz words, an enlightening tour led by a senior, highly- informed enthusiast around the all-pervasive impacts of IT on business up to the present day, followed by a penetrating gaze into the crystal ball to predict how an increasingly Internet-dominated world will continue changing (and improving) the way businesses operate. And it's in there somewhere in these 232 pages, only you'll need a pick-axe to prise it out.
Papows' central themes are the impact of the Web, the need for managers to be fluent in IT, taking "knowledge management" onward, and the extent of change IT has provoked and will continue to provoke. All relevant stuff for the legions of managers who are already struggling to cope with the deluge of information IT technology can produce. This has already changed their companies - but how many suspect that this is not always for the good?
Of course, IT is all about efficiency and aiding innovation, but there are plenty of businesses which are successful because of the people who work there, and not because their IT systems are state of the art.
Papows may be a great speaker but he doesn't appear to know how to communicate on paper, although he is an expert at stating themes in threes. On page 10 alone they assault the senses: creation, discovery and distribution; closely, co-operatively and collaboratively; customers, suppliers and partners; trust, security and openness; leaner, flatter, smarter - and as you trudge further into the book you get into the territory of the management guru's "missioncriticals", "cycle times", "network-centric organisations", "market-facing enterprises", "technology-feedback loops" and the somewhat startling "knowledge-empowered customer-service representative". Am I only supposed to read this book if I already know what all this means?
This book is really for IT-converts who are keen to sign up to an information- driven society. Struggle through to the end of , though, and there is a small prize available. Papows goes into crystal-clear "what if?" mode and asks what'll happen if IT technology fails to deliver on its promises, or becomes too sophisticated to be used effectively.
What if the IT industry fails to agree standards of interoperability? What if businesses say "enough is enough" and stop ordering new systems and software? And what happens if governments step in to try and restrict the Internet? In these last 20 pages are themes that would have been better used as a start-off point. As it was, this book hit the floor with a dull thud, and stayed there.
The reviewer is the managing director of the new media training company, Metro New Media
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