Plain language about Digital Leadership and  Governance of Information Technology for Executives and Directors  
Waltzing with the Elephant review from Fiona Balfour

Waltzing with the Elephant

Review by Fiona Balfour

“Waltzing with the Elephant” is a great and wonderful read!!

And, read from cover to cover, front to back –you see the logic rolling out in front of you. That logic is soundly based on the premise that business demand drives technology investment so thus the business itself should be exercising appropriate Governance. This demand-side based logic is a significant contribution to understanding the accountabilities and thus provides insight to this perspective on IT Governance. Mark Toomey – experienced professional turned author - guides us through those accountabilities with great competence.

This premise is second nature to those of us who have spent vast amounts of our lives working in complex organisations with history and layers of business solutions. But it is often a foreign idea to newer businesses where technology investment is seen as a cost and thus management sees technology as something controlled by Finance. It is completely radical thinking to those who have ‘grown up’ on the supply-side of the industry. “Waltzing with the Elephant” challenges these views. It argues logically and systematically through the IT investment cycle and submits a working model which usefully separates management from governance and then articulates accountabilities from this perspective. Whilst it does not confront the ‘finance managing technology issue’ head on, what it does is present a picture of the accountabilities of IT management. As a result, any self respecting CFO or ‘C Level’ Executive reading this should run a million miles from managing IT directly, but should appropriately (along with other colleagues) feel much more comfortable in exercising their active governance accountabilities. It is a welcome delineation.

Of great value is the specific chapter on the role of the Company Director in IT Governance. If all the Top 200 Chairs read this critical Chapter, I suspect we might see the emergence of a trend to have appropriate functional expertise on listed companies’ boards. This would be a significant development in the Australian landscape



 Usefully, Toomey aligns the structure of his work with the ISO/IEC 38500 “Corporate Governance of IT” standards – and in many respects this work can be interpreted as ‘the manual we had to have’.

 The book is peppered with delightful anecdotes – some of them are like ‘old times’ reading and to the uninitiated seem impossible to contemplate. But as one of those who was there – let me be clear – they are all true!!

 It is the ‘business-as-usual’ bit that I like the best. So often, the so-called ‘IT literate executive’ thinks that business-as-usual is easy, predictable and problem free and requires little review, governance or hard management. Business-as-usual generates value through appropriate life cycle custodianship. The governance requirements are not complex but require diligence, intelligence and thought and “Waltzing with the Elephant” demonstrates why this is so. “Waltzing with the Elephant” contemplates the impact of thirteen (13) key cost drivers and how mismanagement or no management value destroys. It is solid reading.

 Finally, the models and frameworks: review, consider, contemplate, understand and enjoy each of these. They are each rich in perspective and represent years of careful and considered thought. Whilst they frame thoughts for the uninitiated, they are welcome reading and fill my heart with joy! Recommended reading for academics, students of technology, all IT Professionals and ‘C’ role leaders and company directors.

 Fiona Balfour, Sydney. 30th September, 2009.

* Fiona Balfour has had a distinguished career as an information technology executive. She has held the roles of Chief Information Officer for Qantas Airways and Telstra Corporation and was previously a Director of SITA SC (Geneva). She is currently a Trustee for the National Breast Cancer Foundation and provides advisory services.