The Strategic Management of Technology: A Guide for Library and Information Services

Robin Yeates (Consultant, UK)

Program: electronic library and information systems

ISSN: 0033-0337

Article publication date: 1 December 2004




Yeates, R. (2004), "The Strategic Management of Technology: A Guide for Library and Information Services", Program: electronic library and information systems, Vol. 38 No. 4, pp. 275-276.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2004, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This interesting volume forms part of the relatively new Chandos Information Professional series, commissioned to cover a range of current management issues, such as digital libraries, legal information, cataloguing, knowledge management and information design. Dr Baker is “Principal of the College of St Mark and St John. He has lectured extensively, on an international basis, on library and information studies and has acted as a consultant to the World Bank, European Union and the British Council”, and he must be unusual (a model perhaps?) in holding degrees in music, library studies and business administration. The book examines three themes: strategy, management and technology, using his experiences in higher education library services and research to illustrate and amplify points made.

The preface explains that strategic management is not just about avoiding failures but also positioning an organisation to best advantage. This involves “thinking outside the box” and considering commercial management tools and experience as well as the public sector LIS environment. This volume assists in this, by using the author's learning from an MBA for the Open University on why technology projects fail, focusing on the LIS sector.

A masterful summary of what the three themes mean opens the work proper. There are clearly headed short sections throughout the book, on the meaning and elements of strategy, mission statements and prerequisites for effective strategy development and implementation. These provide cited evidence that can be explored further, at the same time as delivering a very clearly argued overview of the topics.

This learning resource for LIS staff, perhaps unaccustomed to MBA thinking, continues by looking at the technology transformation process that is applied frequently and reasonably in the book to library document delivery as an examplar. Diagrams illustrate conceptually how technology transforms inputs into outputs and provides control functions. These are also developed to provide explanations of progressive layers of technology life‐cycle complexity. Each chapter ends with a summary, a page or two long, strengthening the message, followed by notes and a bibliography. Libraries need to develop long‐term management know‐how, and to understand where they fit on the technology roadmap, as pioneer/leader, fast follower, or laggard.

The next chapter distinguishes usefully between the oft‐confused terms improvement, invention, innovation, and integration. It clarifies which tools apply to which, covering concepts including innovation frameworks, critical success factors, re‐engineering, TQM, reverse product cycles, technology push/market pull, stakeholders, competition and integrative approaches. It also provides a rare expert selection of management tools suggested as most relevant in an LIS context.

Since forecasting and risk are key areas for the strategic management of technology, a chapter is included on scenario planning alongside one on systems thinking. Both are intended to help with clear strategy formulation. The worked examples are particularly useful to students and those lacking suitable personal experience, but the succinct discussion of various analysis and assessment methods will be thought‐provoking also to experienced managers. Complex strategic planning webs and multiple cause diagrams are introduced painlessly only after thorough explanation of their components and context of use.

After consideration of strategy formulation, Dr Baker moves on to implementation, looking at both programme level and project management. Again, this book covers the basics for students very well, such as why programmes and projects are undertaken and what they are, but moves steadily towards the reasons why projects fail or succeed, and how to manage risk. A full set of generic model diagrams of a successful project is included, as well as worked examples of the failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) methodology.

A series of four “case studies” completes the book. These are referred to briefly earlier in the book, and are intended to provide exemplars of the themes, issues and approaches described. They are based on the author's personal experience, and are all relevant, and complementary both to each other and the earlier chapters. They focus mainly on the situation in UK higher education, although an initiative to develop a programme in Sudan is also included. Not all the experiences are examples of best practice, as the author points out, but projects such as the eLib EDDIS document delivery project are most effectively discussed here from the point of view of learning from experience, warts and all. An unexpected bonus, in what some might have expected to be a traditional textbook, is the very readable and challenging analysis of the issues surrounding take‐up of ICT in UK higher education.

Overall, this is a highly readable, up‐to‐date, evidence‐based guide for senior LIS managers, LIS students and those managing ICT in library and information services. If enough people buy it, perhaps the price could be lowered for the next edition. Sometimes Dr Baker seems to be trying to convince a sceptical reader of the value of “soft science”, but surely the environmental context is right for this book to serve LIS staff and stakeholders well. It is a slight pity that, judging from the bibliographies included without and with hyperlinks, less of the strategic management techniques compared with LIS project activities are represented freely on the web, limiting the very levels of awareness and communication that could make a difference

Related articles