fruITion is a novel by Chris Potts, a corporate strategist specializing in exploiting Information Technology (IT) and investing in change. It was published in the USA in February 2008 by Technics Publications, LLC. It sets out to offer a change from ‘the same old books about IT and strategy’. According to CIO magazine, “Few CIOs today are wholly business strategists, but the role is changing. Potts's narrative spells out how you might change with the times.” Subtitled “Creating the Ultimate Corporate Strategy for Information Technology”, it asks and answers an unorthodox and enlightening question about the relationship between strategy and IT:
For many involved in the relationships between a business, its strategy for IT, and IT people, this is an innovative and revealing perspective. Typically, it is the IT people who define the strategy, and how they relate to everyone else. In fruITion everything is approached from the opposite viewpoint, on the basis that “innovation in the relationship between IT and everything else may, at times, be better driven by people outside of IT.”
fruITion is narrated by a Chief Information Officer (CIO) called Ian, who we must assume is fictional. The events in the book are set in and around a corporate headquarters in London, England although Ian is introduced as being “originally from elsewhere” (an unexplained reference in the Preface that hints at the allegorical nature of the book). Other main characters in the story include: Juliette, the Chief Executive Officer; Graham, the company’s Strategy Director; James, the Chief Financial Officer; Marianne, the Group Director of Brand and Marketing; Christine, Ian’s head of IT/Business Partnerships; and Simon, Ian’s IT Strategy Manager.
Ian’s relationships with the book’s other characters are central to the story. Conversely, while the book is ostensibly about IT, it is noticeable that technology itself is almost of no interest whatsoever to the story and it characters. This, and other plot devices such as the extensive use of dialogue, visual commentary and periodic references to the weather, indicate that Potts has drawn more on some basic principles of film-making, for example, than of business writing.
Each chapter of the book concludes with some practical observations from the author, that the reader can compare with their own.
The story opens with Ian and members of his IT management team reviewing the company’s IT Strategy in a hotel meeting room, something that anyone involved in this process will find familiar.
Ian then takes the strategy paper they produce to Juliette, who reacts in a way Ian is not expecting. She pushes Ian to articulate the company’s strategy for IT in one sentence, which he is initially unable to do. When he does, she pulls it apart and then asks Ian to start again, mentored by Graham. She sets him a timescale of a week to come back with an entirely new strategy, squarely focused on how the company creates value by exploiting IT.
This is the beginning of a journey of discovery and change for Ian, at the end of which he will either become one of Juliette’s inner-circle corporate strategists or, it seems, lose his job.
He rapidly discovers, for example, that the company’s difficulties with creating value from IT are actually nothing to do with IT, but originate in the organization’s culture towards investing in change. This is one of the book’s central insights, and one which takes Ian time to understand and then apply.
As well as formulating the new ‘corporate strategy for exploiting IT’, Ian is expected to say what his own future role in the organization will be. Ian’s discomfort with the personal implications of the strategy he has been asked to formulate begin to undermine the chances of success.
As the story progresses, Ian formulates his strategy in a number of iterations, and has mainly one-to-one conversations with the other key characters. Underlining the theme of relationships, the implications of Ian’s history with each of these people, and feelings about them, are both explicit and implicit in his narrative.
The climax of the story is Ian’s formal meeting with Juliette, Graham and James to propose the new strategy and his role in its success. In the aftermath of their decision, we learn what happens to the various parts of Ian’s old IT department and to the members of Ian’s senior team. The result, like the book’s original question, is unorthodox — yet by then somehow obvious.