Strassmann uses the word "politics," but he really wants to talk about "governance." He distinguishes between information management and information technology and writes that the former, which includes all coordination tasks, is the province of the CEO, not the CIO. Thus, the CEO is responsible for deciding where and how information systems should be applied, and the CIO is responsible for IS effectiveness and efficiency. Strassmann therefore believes, for example, that CIOs who aspire to chart everyone's work flow are doing the wrong thing and that reengineering efforts should not be the responsibility of IS.
The book centers on Strassmann's view that the optimal organization is a federation, much as outlined in the US Constitution. In a federation, power is balanced between a central unit and a number of constituent units, whereas in a confederation all authority remains with the constituent units unless they agree to delegate specific powers to the collective body. In Strassmann's view, the US is a federation whereas NATO is a confederation. Many corporations claim to be federations but are really confederations. In such an environment, Strassmann argues, a CIO with a federated mission cannot succeed.
Strassmann uses the constitutional model to develop a seven-layer information constitution. The top layer is global and includes all functions that deal with the outside; the bottom layer is personal and includes all data that people want to keep private.
Strassmann presents the layers and proceeds to lay out the elements of a model constitution. The basic idea throughout is to achieve a balance of power between the center and the divisions. As you read through the book, it becomes clear that Strassmann believes that the role of the center is essential. In fact, he argues that pure decentralization will fail because centralization is required in such areas as security and privacy. On the other hand, pure centralization that takes an elitist view and tries a trickle-down approach also fails.
Unlike other writers, whose prescriptions for governance tend to consist of a few generic slogans, Strassmann presents a remarkably detailed model constitution. His prescription covers such wide-ranging topics as statements of goals and principles, responsibilities at the enterprise, the information management policy board, IS manager, and finance. He looks at both the internal and the external relations of IS. The book is wide ranging and covers most of the topics of concern to IS managers. Strassmann presents concepts of operation and standards. He prefers process improvement to radical reengineering, and points out the folly of massive layoffs that provide short-term financial gain at the expense of tearing apart the social fabric of an organization. He looks at the issues of legacy systems and reuse; he examines the true cost of client/ server arrangements versus mainframes, of training, and of using a value-based approach. He also presents a charter for the CIO.
In the last section of the book called "Recollections," Strassmann switches gears and takes a look at his own career, which began at General Foods in 1961, continued with his long tenure at Xerox, and culminated in his more recent stint at the Department of Defense. He points out that in politics, "You can never outguess who will ultimately wind up the winner."
In describing his work on the concept of corporate information management, which he established at the defense department, he discusses not only the problems of implementing management principles but also the politics of revamping the department's systems acquisitions process. In his conclusions, Strassmann returns to the issue of governance. Using The Federalist Papers as his model, Strassmann asserts that the selection of governance rules is a critical issue that senior managers must face on their own, without the help of consultants. Changes in governance must be carefully evaluated because they have long-term consequences for everyone in the organization.
Two of the delights of the book are the pithy sayings at the beginning of each chapter and the "Devil's Dictionary" in the glossary at the end of the book. Two of my favorite sayings are: