IT directors must learn to cope with the hard sell

IT directors need to have an angle on the technology being pitched in today's glitzy TV ad campaigns before their CEOs buy into...

IT directors need to have an angle on the technology being pitched in today's glitzy TV ad campaigns before their CEOs buy into the products being featured, according to a panel at the Economist Chief Information Officer's and IT Directors' summit in London last week.

The panel focused on the problem of dealing with misconceptions caused by over-the-top marketing of IT products and picked out mobile technology as being particularly problematic.

WAP, the wireless application protocol used to access internet services from mobile handset,s was branded one of the most hyped products.

Malcolm Mitchell, director of technology and business strategy at mobile giant Vodafone, admitted that the mobile operators had misled users.

"Everyone understands that WAP was presented in a way that was not consistent with reality," he said. WAP was portrayed as a fast, feature-rich mobile internet but the service offered slow, text-based information and inevitably failed to meet users' expectations.

Today, consumers are being pitched the concept of multimedia messaging, picture messaging, video messaging and feature-rich smartphones that could replace today's breed of handheld computers.

It is not yet clear whether these services will offer users genuine new business opportunities, but IT directors should still evaluate how such technology could be deployed, the panel said.

Simon Linsley, head of IT at the lighting division of Philips Electronics said, "As soon as you see an ad on TV, get the technology and play with it."

He works on the so-called "10 minute pitch". If a business use for the technology cannot be explained to the company's chief executive officer in less than 10 minutes, discard it, Linsley advised.

Linsley also warned that some technologies require a cultural shift and an internal marketing effort to encourage adoption. Philips is evaluating how mobile phones could be used to track the company's sales forces to within 1,000m. Deploying such technology could be seen as an infringement on personal privacy, but Linsley said staff would be more comfortable if they were told the same technology could be used to track their children.

Paperless or worthless?

Along with mobile technologies, the panel of IT directors also looked into whether the so-called paper-ess office will ever be a reality. Long touted by the IT industry as the way ahead for businesses to remain competitive, the paperless office has failed to materialise.

Philips' Linsley believed the idea did not make business sense, while Stuart Walker, chief information officer at travel portal Opodo, said. "Some things like books or travel brochures do not translate well to a computer screen."

For the travel industry at least, Walker is putting his money on web services, which he said, "provide a massive opportunity".

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