Book review

Book review

Corporate Information Strategy for Management Consultancies

By: Patricia Walters

Price: #195

Publisher: Elan Business Publishing

In an age when cobblers are increasingly rare, consultants have done more than most to keep alive the cliche that the cobbler’s children are the most poorly shod. One of the areas where this adage applied more than most was in the area of information technology. Despite deriving a major proportion of their income from IT implementation work, consultancies were often found to be lagging behind in such areas as laptop use, access to external e-mail, and adoption of other leading edge technologies.

Three pressures have combined to change this picture. The first is globalisation: the multinational consultancies, and by extension their competitors, have been led by client demands to provide a truly global service. This has led to the creation of global IT infrastructures, often accompanied by a reengineering of the firm itself. The second has been the increasing transformation of consultants into knowledge workers. As consultancies compete for scarce human resources it is increasingly important to gain the maximum leverage from their “knowledge capital”. Competition then moves to the arena of “thought leadership”. Finally, consultancies have been early adopters of the new ways of working: whether we’re talking about hot-desking, road warriors, homeworkers or portfolio careers, successful adoption requires a sophisticated grasp of the abilities of IT.

So what information strategies should consultancies adopt? Management Consultancy has teamed up with Elan Business Publishing to produce this report which both assesses the current state of play and charts the path forward. The author, Patricia Walters, has worked as research manager for both the MAC group (now Gemini Consulting) and Andersen Consulting, and has used this experience, together with surveys and in-depth interviews of a cross-section of the consulting industry, to produce this report.

She found broad agreement that knowledge strategies were high on the senior executives’ agenda, though this was generally interpreted as knowledge sharing. Knowledge management is a lower priority, and although there is some consonance in strategies adopted for knowledge sharing (for example, by the adoption of proprietary systems like Lotus Notes), a variety of approaches and priorities appear in the area of knowledge management.

This variety of approaches reveals a number of contentious issues in the adoption of information strategies by consultancies: who takes the lead role in setting strategy? Should knowledge management be integrated with the main practice or grouped with research and other support functions?

How do you ensure that consultants make time to populate the databases that support the knowledge management strategy?

Drawing on the experiences of interviewees, the report outlines a number of priorities for strategy implementation, and makes several practical recommendations on which strategy to adopt.

While a number of consultancies have implemented successful information strategies, it is clear that this is an area which is fraught with potential problems, particularly because of the overlap on competences and responsibilities between consultants, researchers and IT professionals. This report helps to chart a path through a potential minefield.

The report is rounded off with a series of appendices, which include a glossary of IT terms, a list of suppliers and bibliography.

How Teamwork Works

By: John Syer and Christopher Connolly

Price: #22.95

Publisher: McGraw Hill

How do you create and motivate teams and enhance team performance? The authors, John Syer and Christopher Connolly, describe a team as a system capable of transforming energy. It started with sport. Great football teams are probably a good example. Yet many athletes claim they are not team orientated. They prefer swimming, golfing or tennis because they like to be judged entirely on their own performance.

After working successfully with professional and national sporting teams in Britain, Continental Europe and the USA, the authors turned their experience to the business world 10 years ago and now work with a variety of companies, including Ford Chemical Bank, BP, AMEC and Dow Coring. Their international partnership with Ford and its suppliers has helped produce curricula which have become the industry-wide benchmark for the integration of technical and team skills in training and development.

So how do teams evolve to optimise and excel at performance? Maximise your team process and you will maximise your team performance. Team development, we are told, can be a three-way process.

Firstly, team members increase their awareness of themselves, of each other and of their differences. Secondly, members make contact and communicate with each other. Thirdly, there is growth of respect, trust and team spirit.

The real challenge in leading a team is to allow the full complexity of individual peculiarities, talents, qualities and insights to emerge and be harnessed to the team’s objective; or how to make a group of irrational people with a complex set of relationships into a team.

For anyone seriously interested in team building, this book offers no short cuts or easy check-lists, but valuable distilled expertise and insights which have helped many sports and management teams. Case studies on all aspects of teambuilding range from pioneering work with Tottenham Hotspur Football Club to team-building programmes with Jaguar’s new vehicle development teams, from work with Britain’s Olympic cycling teams to experience during the rebirth of BP in the ’90s.

The key is implementation which transforms all the preliminary work – the expert knowledge, the right mix of skills, timetables, resource allocation and the scheduling of meetings – into reality. It’s hard work that requires attention to detail and perseverance.

Syer and Connolly certainly show how to create teams and develop teamwork and how teams discover their identity, become self-regulating and maximise their potential. But they don’t minimise the problems either. Teams are complex systems. A project team of 20 members has 190 relationships, they say, and each member has a relationship to each other relationship.

By maximising the quality of the relationship between team members, teams maximise their performance.

This is a comprehensive guide not only for coaches, facilitators and consultants, but also for directors and senior managers who want to know more about high performance, multicultural corporate teams.

Reviewed by Wilf Altman, a freelance journalist

Competitive Intelligence

By: Larry Kahaner

Price: #16.99

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Turning raw information into usable intelligence to give your firm competitive advantage in these fierce market conditions may seem like trying to turn straw into gold.

In Competitive Intelligence, business reporter and private investigator Larry Kahanan opens up the secrets of executives’ profiles in competing firms and reveals their decision-making processes.

Kahanan looks at how the global spying business is thriving. He gives examples of the French, German, Japanese and US governments’ spying operations on competing multinationals, be it through opening offices abroad or analysing the competitor’s waste water.

He outlines the differences between peripheral data and powerful intelligence, and emphasises the need to treat this type of work as a process that has to be incorporated into all areas of the firm.

For those intrigued by the murky world of intelligence and corporate spying, this book shows how to set up your own competitive intelligence system and keep other organisations at bay.

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