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Copyright

Title: Customer-Driven IT
Author: David Moschella
Publisher: Harvard Business School Press
Copyright: 2003
ISBN: 1-57851-865-2
Pages: 250
Price: $29.95
Rating: 50%

David Moschella's new book, Customer-Driven IT, sets out to explain how the IT business will be turned on its head in the near future as the industry shifts from a supplier-driven approach to a customer-driven approach. As Moschella says, "customers are now the driving force of IT industry progress." In this die-cut business book, which is the requisite 250 pages long, written by a pundit, consultant and journalist, the author offers his explanations for this "new" change in the IT industry. 

The crux of his argument seems to be that "[IT customers] . . . are being asked to develop major new industry systems, platforms and standards." Huh? Did I read right? They're asking me to join the board and start making decisions? That'll be the day—just try and get any IT company to listen to users' complaints, let alone their desires and needs... 

So I read the introduction to this book several times to try and figure out if I really understood what Moschella was saying, or if I was too thick to get to the heart of his argument. But he is indeed suggesting that the IT industry is going to "ask" its customers to take over and innovate.  As Moschella says, "specific customer leadership is required." 

It seems to make little sense to suggest that the IT industry has not been customer-driven. Like every industry, customers have the final word. Sure, suppliers offer technology that they develop, and innovation is a top-down procedure. But if that technology does not meet the needs or expectations of the market, customers vote with their feet. One can easily suggest that customer needs help fuel IT innovation; but this is a process that obeys a constant feedback loop. The right products at the right time work; products that don't meet today's needs fail. Companies that can understand their users' needs will work in the right direction; others will flounder. 

Suggesting that customer innovation will drive the IT industry in the future is just as confusing. The future of the IT industry will probably resemble the present and the past, as it will probably resemble every other industry since the dawn of mankind: make what they want and they'll buy it. The author's thesis is so tenuous that he constantly reminds the reader what he said, what he is saying, and what he is going to say. Yet never in the book does he clearly explain what the point is: perhaps this obfuscation makes him sound more like a pundit, but I find this book confusing at best.

Moschella doesn't clearly define who the "customer" is; is it the businesses spending money on information technology or is it the end-user? And what about IT? Is it hardware, software or both? He floats around these ideas with woolly explanations and illustrates them with figures that are supposed to look like graphs but that have all the clarity of Zen koans.  

Moschella also seems to be out of touch with reality, and ignores the greater context that drives many IT innovations. He spends, for example, a chapter discussing e-learning, wondering why this sector has not yet taken off. He concludes that "the failure to develop a new generation of semantic learning applications continues to hold back the growth of the e-learning business." Customer-driven, this?  

I'm sorry, sir, but e-learning is an excellent example of a technology that has not fully considered the social context of this area. I have been both a teacher (of English as a foreign language) and a distance-learner (I earned a Masters in Applied Linguistics in a correspondence course with Aston University, in Birmingham, UK, and have taken other courses using the Internet.) Mr. Moschella seems unaware of the issues that affect user acceptance of e-learning systems. The first is that, for most people, e-learning simply does not work. Only a small percentage of people can truly make the commitment and harness the motivation to succeed in such programs. And learning is all about motivation; without motivation, learners stagnate. Second, the time required—other than for on-the-job training—is difficult to organize. If e-learning fit with the mentality of enough people for it to become a growth industry this would have already occurred. Sure, there are examples of programs that have been successful, but most people simply don't and cannot learn on their own; in addition, education is as much a social experience as it is a learning experience.  

In the end, I remain confused by both the focus and the direction of this book. Yes, the author presents some interesting discussions of upcoming and innovative technologies, but I cannot help but feel that he is writing from a point of view that is far too restrictive and out of touch with reality. It is not enough to be a "consultant" and to recount the many experiences you have had; you need to provide some real ideas that readers can understand and implement, and you need to do so in a linear order. Of course, it could be that I am just too obtuse to understand his points; this book contains a lot of filler, wanders off in many directions, and lacks focus overall, making his arguments different to discern. 

Kirk McElhearn  

Kirk McElhearn (kirk@mcelhearn.com) is a freelance writer and translator living in a village in the French Alps. You can find out all about him at his web site, http://www.mcelhearn.com.