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Rigorous, friendly, and a little twisted

Case: This book

Let's use the book you're reading now as a case. It's a business, or at least I hope it will be. The business has a strategy. And it uses IT to implement that strategy. Let's talk about these three things:

Strategy, processes implementing strategy, and IT

Figure 1. The strategy stack

So, in this book we're talking about the strategy of the book that led to the processes of the book that led to the technology in this book that explains the strategy of the book that led to the processes of the book ...

My brain’s about to explode.

It is a bit loopy, I must admit.


Hmm, I'll have to send Larry out for repair. Hey, guys? Come pick him up, will you?

We’ll take care of him.


OK, here we go.


There are two strategic elements:

  • High quality
  • Low cost

Wait a minute. They don’t usually go together.

That's right. But in this case they can both be done at the same time.

High quality

Let's start with the first element. What does it mean for a book to be "high quality?"

How about the paper it’s printed on?

What do you think?

Depends on the customer’s goals. If people buy the book as a status symbol, then cool, glossy paper is important.

How could a book be a status symbol?

You might put an expensive art book on the coffee table. So visitors see it.

You’re so cynical.

Social status is important to people. Need for status has evolved into us. Part of our species' survival strategy is acting together, not individually. In social groups, status is important. The humans with the highest status are more attractive to potential mates.

Not that we all need to be slaves to our genes. Mature people can control their need for status, or at least control the behaviors that result from it.

OK, now I’ve got you! I’m certain that this has nothing to do with MIS!

Maybe it does, in a round-about way. Understanding status will help you understand why customers and employees act the way they do. It helps explain why people get so upset when they are treated disrespectfully.

But it isn't just about business. There's more to life, like family, friends, and community. Understanding status can help you live a more complete, or at least less stressful, life.

Anyway, let's get back to strategy. Paper quality is important for a book that's meant to give status.

Can I make a suggestion?

Go ahead.

It seems to me that you can’t measure quality, unless you know the customer’s goals.

Oo, oo! That's right! Remember the status goal on the previous page, with the car company? Their business strategy is based on knowing people's goals. The value proposition is designed to appeal to people with certain goals. Same with the market position. Of course, the goals can be emotional, as well as functional.

Georgia, you deserve a prize. Here.


Cool! Thanks!

Actually, the question of who the customer is is a little complicated, but we'll come back to that. Let's assume for the moment that it's you guys, the students.

So, what are your goals?

I’m a marketing major. I have to take this course. I want to get through it with as little pain as possible.

Not unreasonable. What courses do you like?

Marketing courses, naturally. They can help me with my career.

OK. What if I could convince you that MIS could help you with your marketing career? Would you be more interested in MIS?

I suppose so.

Good. Then that gives me a goal, too.

Anyone have any other goals?

I’m an MIS major. I want this book to help me with my MIS career. And with MIS courses I take in the future.

OK. So we have two types of customers (so far), with different goals.

Now, what makes a high quality book?

One that will help us learn the things we need to know.

Indeed. So it needs to be a book about business, and IT, and how they tie together. There'll be some extra technical content along the way, for MIS majors.

Are there other aspects of quality, other than content?

Some books are hard to learn from.

True. Even if the content is right, it could be presented poorly.

This book is designed to help people learn. It's not a reference book.

There are emotional and cognitive aspects to this. Content is easier to learn when it's emotionally interesting. That's why you guys are here. That's why strange things happen, like Larry's brain exploding. That's why the language is informal. That's why there are stories.


Yes. In fact, the whole book is a story, of you guys learning MIS.

I don’t want to think about what that means for us Scoobies.

Good idea. Remember what happened to Larry. Too much recursive thought can be dangerous for fictional characters.

There are cognitive parts to learning as well.

What’s “cognitive” mean?

Having to do with the way our brains process information.

This book supports the SQ3R method, like structuring the content, and having you guys ask questions. There's more about this on the learning with the book page.

So this gives us some idea of what "quality" means for this book:

  • The book needs to be a book about business, and IT, and how they tie together. There should be some extra technical content along the way, for MIS majors.
  • The book needs to be emotionally engaging.
  • The book needs to support effective cognitive learning methods, like SQ3R.

The second strategic element is low cost.

Low cost

What can you tell me about this?

The book is online. Nothing to physically print or ship.

Right. Production and distribution costs barely exist.

There's another aspect to cost. What might that be?

What about the time needed to learn from the book?

Yes! The book lets you use your time efficiently.

The cognitive tools and the emotional engagement mean that when you spend time with the book, you learn. You won't have to read it again and again to figure out what it says.

Hi guys!

Larry's back! How are you?

Just fine. Needed a new brain. No big deal.

You're just in time to help us with a question.

I said that the issue of who this book's customers are is a bit complicated. Students are customers. Are there any others?

MIS instructors, of course.

Right! They want a book that's effective for students, easy to teach from, and will attract students to the MIS major. Or at least not drive them away!

What makes a book easy to teach from?

Is grading part of teaching?

Yes, it is. The book has exercises. But, to be honest, the book needs improvement as far as grading goes. There need to be test banks, projects with solutions, and other things. I'm working on it.

Anything else?

If I was teaching a class, I’d want my time investment in a book to last a long time.

Good point. This book will be around for a long time.

Technology changes fast. The book has to be kept up to date.

Yes! If it's not, it won't last very long. One nice thing about an online book is that it's cheap to change it.

There are other things instructors think about as well. One is teaching ratings. The happier students are, the more positively students will rate their instructors.

My professor’s great! I’ll give her high teaching ratings.Another thing is simple stress. Teaching can be fun, or not. It's more fun to teach with an interesting, somewhat humorous book than a dull one.

Glad you put the “somewhat” in there.

Well, if you have ideas for making the book funnier or more interesting, let me know. Maybe post to the forums, so we can talk about it. Click on the Forums to the right to go there.

So, we've talked about the book's strategy. It has two elements: high quality, and low cost.

Let's look at the business processes that implement the strategy. That's the second part of the strategy stack in Figure 1.

Strategy, processes implementing strategy, and IT

Figure 1 (again). The strategy stack

Processes implementing the strategy

What are the key tasks I need to do?

You need to write and update the book. And market and sell it.

Anything else?

You need to program the book.

Right! The book is a technical artifact. It has discussion forums, a messaging system, navigation (the way you move between pages), animated demos, and other things.

So, the key processes are:

  • Writing the book.
  • Updating the book.
  • Programming the book.
  • Marketing the book.
  • Selling the book.

We won't go over them in detail. But I'd like to point out a few things.

I'm writing the book myself. However, nobody can do that 100% effectively. I need feedback from students and instructors. Particularly instructors, since they have more expertise. So I have to make it easy for people to give me feedback.

Why would an instructor spend time giving you feedback?

Good question. Thoughts?

It will make the book better.


In fact, I'd like to make this book more of a community effort. I'll create a quality, low-cost book to start with, but it will improve as more people become involved.

Why would they do this if you get all the money?

Actually, I would pay people to add significant content, or things like a test bank. That depends on my having enough money to do that. It's a chicken-and-egg problem. More money will mean a higher quality book, and a higher quality book will mean more buyers, and more money. But I need some buyers to begin with.

There's more we could say about processes, but let's move on to the next step in the strategy stack in Figure 1.


What do I need?

You need a Web site, and software that runs on it.

Right. Anything else?

The animations you did. Were they custom programmed?

Yes, like the animations here. Fortunately, I have crazy tech skills.

There are other things as well, but let's focus on these:

  • Web site
  • Content management software
  • Custom programming

I bought cheap Web hosting services. I selected something that had:

  • The tech I wanted (e.g., PHP, MySQL, email, SSH access)
  • The capacity I wanted (e.g., lots of disk space)
  • Reliability
  • Security

I installed a content management system (CMS) called TikiWikiexternal link. We'll talk about that later in the book, particularly in the document center chapter.

I modified TikiWiki a little to match my business processes. For example, remember the importance of feedback? I wanted to make it very easy for readers to offer feedback. So, I changed the TikiWiki software, adding the orange feedback tab on the left.

The feedback tab supports the business processes which support the strategy. This is how MIS people think. There are many MIS professionals who would not be able to do the programming, given the mix of technologies on the site. But they could tell a programmer what to do. And figuring out what to do with IT is just an important as making the IT do it.

This is a long page. Lots of stuff going on. But it's a good illustration of how strategies are formed, how processes are designed to support strategies, and how IT makes the processes work.

Even better, the final system is right in front of you. You can see the links from strategy to IT.

Of course, if you have any ideas to improve things, please let me know.

Page summary

A good business strategy takes customers' goals into account. There are three types of customers for this book: MIS students, students from other majors, and MIS instructors. The book needs to be a book about business, and IT, and how they tie together. There should be some extra technical content along the way, for MIS majors.

The book needs to be emotionally engaging. The book needs to support effective cognitive learning methods, like SQ3R. The book should be easy to teach from, attract students to the MIS major, be updated over time, and be enjoyable for students. It should also be inexpensive, and time efficient.

Business processes support the strategy. Key processes include writing the book, updating the book, programming the book, marketing the book, and selling the book. It's easy for people to give feedback.

Key IT components are the Web site, content management software, and custom programming.

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Section I. What MIS is all about  >  Chapter 2. MIS and business  >  Case: This book

Created by: system last modification: Tuesday 11 of September, 2012 [05:09:00 UTC] by olfmanl

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