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Auster, E. and Choo, C.W. (Eds.) Managing information for the competitive edge. New York, London: Neal-Schuman (1996) xiii + 554 pp. No price given. ISBN 1-55570-215-5

Auster and Choo, from the University of Toronto Faculty of Information Studies have produced a collection of papers from various sources under the general umbrella of information management. The concept is hard to define, as the editors acknowledge, and definitions will vary. For a collection such as this, however, the question is not whether the definition is in some way "correct", but whether the collection of papers supports the editors' view of the field.

Anyone interested in the nature and direction of information management will find much here of value and relevance: it is always useful to have one's favourite papers collected in one place. The test that Auster and Choo set themselves, in effect, is to test their categorization of the field against the available literature and, secondly, to prove that they have indeed selected "...the best articles..." (p. xiii) to illustrate their categories.

The categorization is, perhaps, unexceptional: information models of organizations; information requirements of organizations; information behaviour of managers; strategic aspects; the value of information; and, possibly unexpected, "Information without boundaries", which seems to mean that the papers in this category draw attention to the need for information managers to adopt an holistic attitude to the nature of information resources in organizations and to the generality of their functions across organizational boundaries. Each category is introduced by a short essay from the editors, and ends with a bibliography of further reading. This last feature, together with the references provided by individual authors, make the text a very useful class text for courses. The book also has both author and subject indexes, which are very much to be welcomed in a type of publication that often lacks such aids to use.

A structure such as this would satisfy most people in the field as at least reasonable: one could quibble about the need for a section of papers on the management of information technology and its relation to the management of information. Or about the need for a section on legal and ethical issues in information management; or, indeed, about half-a-dozen other topic areas. I think we can agree, however, that Auster and Choo have chosen categories that correspond, at least, to the basic framework of the field.

What, then, of the individual selections? Clearly, in order to keep the whole publication to a reasonable size, the editors have been highly selective. Given this, I find some of their choices rather surprising. For example, Porter and Millar's, How information gives you competitive advantage is actually about how information technology might give firms competitive advantage. True, information gets an occasional mention but the discussion almost immediately slides away to the technology and it is clear that the authors have no real analytical framework actually to discuss how information might convey competitive advantage. This is true, in fact, of Porter's book, Competitive advantage, which devotes some attention to the role of information technology, but none at all to information. Similarly, in a report to the Portuguese government of a few years ago, Porter's consultancy group, Monitor, produced a report on the competitive position of the Portuguese economy in which it was evident that the existence of appropriate information and information services to support industry was taken for granted when, in fact, such services were desperately needed. Porter's analysis of the value chain in organizations is certainly of value, but its relationship to information needs is dealt with in a very cursory fashion in this piece. Whether any appropriate alternative existed at the time the book was being prepared is, of course, another matter, but Hunsicker's paper on the value chain in the McKinsey Quarterly is actually much more suggestive of the kind of analysis that would be useful for the management of information than is Porter and Millar's.

Again, I regard Davenport and Prusak's "Blow up the corporate library" as one of the most ill informed and silly pieces ever to appear in a serious journal. Here we have two management writers making wild and unsubstantiated generalisations against the special library profession at a time when many members of that profession, as Desai and Bawden demonstrate in another selection (p. 481) are delivering information services of a very high order and of central relevance to the competitive position of their organizations. The interesting thing is that the information scientists, Desai and Bawden, base their paper on field research, whereas Davenport and Prusak's piece is sheer polemic without the slightest trace of empirical evidence. The only justification I can find for including this piece is that the rest of the section completely refutes its argument, which, indeed, may have been the editors' intention: the pity is that it gives a degree of credence to a paper that deserves none.

Having sounded off about these two contributions, let me say that I find the collection as a whole very useful - and it would be an incredible feat on the part of any editor to satisfy every reader. There is much here that the student of information management will find of value: the papers by Taylor (information use environments), Daft and Lengel (information richness), Ellis and others (information audits), Davenport, Eccles and Prusak (information politics) and Koenig (information and productivity), among others are all worth being brought together in this way. The book is intended for practitioners, teachers and students, but I suspect that the main audience was intended to be the academic. Practitioners, however, could certainly benefit from many of the papers presented here, which may offer an alternative perspective from that conveyed by the dominant paradigm of information handling under which they might have received their early training.

Professor Tom Wilson