Play down the hype when pitching new technology to the board

IT directors must stop creating unrealistic expectations by talking up the potential of IT products to deliver.

IT directors must stop creating unrealistic expectations by talking up the potential of IT products to deliver.

A panel of IT directors from various industries discussed the problems caused by over-the-top marketing of IT products at the Economist CIO Summit.

One example of overheated marketing has been Wap mobile internet technology. Malcolm Mitchell, Vodafone's director of technology business strategy and technology development, said, "Everyone understands that Wap was presented in a way that was not consistent with reality."

Wap failed to meet users' expectations as it portrayed a fast, feature-rich mobile internet, when in fact the service offered slow, text-based information.

Today, consumers are being pitched the concept of multimedia messaging and feature-rich smartphones. Whether any of these services offer users a genuinely new business opportunity remains to be seen. But IT directors should evaluate how such technology could be deployed.

Simon Linsley, head of IT at the lighting division of Philips Electronics, urged IT directors to test new technology to see if it matches the marketing claims. "As soon as you see an advert on TV, get the technology and play with it," he said.

Linsley said he works on the "10-minute pitch" rule - if a business use for the technology cannot be explained to the chief executive in less than 10 minutes, discard it. He added that IT chiefs need to second-guess the marketing message and welcome the risk of trying the new technology.

Linsley said some technologies require a cultural shift and an internal marketing effort to encourage adoption of a new idea. He gave the example of how he was evaluating using mobile phones to track the company's mobile sales operatives. 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 where their children were.

The panel of IT directors also looked into whether the long-predicted paperless office will ever be a reality. Often touted as the way ahead for businesses to remain competitive in an automated commercial environment, for all its merits, the paperless office has failed to materialise.

Linsley believes the idea does not make business sense. "Why spend £100,000 getting rid of paper in the office?" he asked.

Stuart Walker, CIO at travel portal Opodo, said. "Some things, such as travel brochures, do not translate well to a computer screen." For the travel industry at least, Walker is putting his money on web services as the key new technology. "It provides a massive opportunity for the travel industry," he said.

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