Reviews of Recent Titles on Open Systems Subjects
By Jim Johnson
Information Systems Management: The M*A*C*R*O Approach
by Charles T. Smith
246 pages; $34.95
To say that IS management has undergone many changes in recent years would
be a tremendous understatement. The client/ server revolution has forced
enormous changes upon most organizations, requiring radically different
approaches to system analysis, design, development and operation. The technological
differences between new architectures and traditional legacy systems also
have presented managers with substantial challenges, both in helping their
staffs adapt to the methods and in learning the new disciplines themselves.
The power and complexity of these new technologies often divert attention
from the human side of IS management. The best software and hardware in
the world can't help an organization whose users feel threatened by it.
In fact, a technically elegant system implementation can actually create
an organizational crisis if the confidence and support of the users is not
secured and maintained. Further complicating the situation is the fact that
every organization harbors a hidden world of political undercurrents, unofficial
lines of authority and conflicting personal agendas. What's more, a substantial
number of IS managers coming up from the ranks of programmers and analysts
are hindered by both a technology-centered mindset and a dearth of management
skills to help them cope with these dilemmas.
Charles T. Smith has been grappling with this dilemma for over 30 years.
He began as a programmer, then was an analyst and has occupied several IS
management positions since 1971. Since 1987, he has led a consulting group
that helps user companies manage existing IS resources, reengineer and implement
The Meaning of MACRO
Exploring and demystifying the political side of IS management is the goal
of Smith's book, Information Systems Management: The M*A*C*R*O Approach.
In this context, MACRO does not refer to the shortcut accessory featured
in many desktop applications. Smith uses the letters as a mnemonic acronym
to represent his methods of successful IS oversight. The five elements are
In his introduction, Smith compares notions of what IS management is supposed
to be with the reality of what it is. He points out that formal job
descriptions and periodic reviews exist only to satisfy organizational requirements,
and that both of these are determined primarily by the quality of the relationship
between an IS manager and his or her boss. The introduction also includes
"five reasons why IS managers fail": behaving like an analyst
or programmer; not building career-critical relationships; mishandling customers;
not communicating in business terms; and not providing technical leadership.
- Modify your behavior
- Accept the politics
- Comfort your customer
- Relate the technology to the business
- Offer technical leadership.
Smith devotes a chapter to each of the five MACRO elements listed above.
Each of these chapters starts out with an explanation of why and how technical
people fall short in different IS management tasks: "Why IS professionals
have difficulty dealing with customers," "Why IS jargon is difficult
to translate into business terms" and so on. In each case, the analysis
is followed by a series of tips that prescribe remedies to these problems.
Featured at various points are scenarios that illustrate crises of IS management,
many of which are drawn from Smith's real-life experiences. Each MACRO chapter
includes a summary of the critical points. Smith advises keeping a daily
journal and closes each chapter with suggested journal exercises.
A later chapter includes a case study that illustrates the practice of MACRO
principles, and another is devoted to real-life scenarios. In conclusion,
Smith reminds us that work should be about doing what we love to do and
that we should take some time to reflect on the sense of joy and reward
we get from our accomplishments. A suggested reading list tops off the book.
In addition to its spacious and comprehensive format, this book has two
more outstanding qualities. One is its easygoing delivery; Smith offers
insights as if he's chatting around the coffee pot at the office. The other
attribute is humor; there are at least a couple of laughs on every page,
usually in the context of an anecdote or a hypothetical situation with which
IS professionals can empathize. These aspects make the book not only easy
to learn from, but downright enjoyable and suitable for leisure reading.
What's missing from this book is only what Smith never intended to provide;
IS professionals who want a guide to new technologies or methodologies should
look elsewhere. This book is about how IS professionals climbing the management
ladder can better understand and deal with the people they encounter. As
such, it is an important contribution. Many textbooks that attempt to accomplish
the same goal lack the effectiveness of Smith's colloquial approach.
Jim Johnson is a certified personnel consultant and the
principal of Options Unlimited, specializing in the placement of Unix professionals
in the Washington, DC, area. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.