Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Irrelevance of vendor presentations

Let me start with a quote from Peter Drucker — “There is nothing so useless as doing efficiently that which should not be done at all.”

Last month, I was invited to a a marquee publication house’s three day offsite CIO event to discuss the coming year’s IT agenda. Topics on the agenda looked good, the attendee list was glowing, and a long standing relationship with the Editor propelled me towards attending this event. So I packed my bags and decided to give it a shot.

Almost all such events invite a couple of CEOs and thought leaders to share their insights and provoke some thought within the audience. And the CEOs did not let down on that promise. They had the audience eating out of their hands, listening with rapt attention to every word, absorbing it, taking notes, discussing with their neighbors, and in the end asking a lot of relevant questions. The act was a tough one to follow, but the CIOs were charged.

As a result, they (the CIOs) did not mind a few vendor presentations. To their credit, the CIOs did attempt to follow these sessions, but it was a difficult proposition to keep the lids from drooping.

The following days had everyone unanimously wondering what hit them. The torture began with inane presentations ranging from the usual suspects — virtualization, green data centers, cloud computing, outsourcing, intelligent cabling systems, network rationalization, and so on. A few consultants tried to revive the audience by raising questions about CIO reporting and their efficacy. The audience was too numbed to be provoked, and let it go with a mild reprimand similar to “Don’t disturb my sleep”.

The icing on the cake was a presentation on “What is a Data Center”. Yes, men are from Mars, and in a predominantly male crowd, by association CIOs could be classified to belong to Mars. But telling a CIO about what a data center is like is rather akin to teaching Michael Schumacher how to ride a car! I wanted to insert an analogy on Golf, but decided against it.

Without exception, every sponsor had a slide deck (with a minimum of 30 slides) to be displayed to the captives. They ranged right from very basic elementary stuff and all the way to one which wanted CIOs to learn how to move virtual partitions across servers. To be subject to such a score of presentations over two days beats the torture that even the famed Nazi inflicted on their poor captives.

Despite being advised against it by the organizers and post event feedback by the audience, it beats me as to why vendors insist on subjecting CIOs to repetitive presentations with nothing new to talk about, and preach their version of religion. To top it all, these activities are dished out by sales and marketing folks, who are not even subject matter experts (these people could potentially be challenged by the listeners).

The last straw (in a few cases) is the substitute junior staff member reading out slides with no eye contact with the audience. Such a person is typically in a hurry to get off the stage in order to avoid any cross-questioning from the few members who suffer from insomnia. I would rather withdraw the slot than be the subject of “How to reduce your exposure to this vendor”.

Has the IT vendor become a slave to these habits? Has their thinking has become clouded (a side effect of cloud computing?)? Is the scene so bad that IT vendors are unable to explore alternatives to engage their prime customers — the CIOs? Whatever happened to good old case studies, panel discussions, and interactive sessions in the form of a Q&A? Are vendors unable to stand tall without the crutches of slide decks which no one wants to see? Why do vendors continue to alienate themselves from their customers?

I guess it’s time to get back to basics. To quote Peter Drucker once again, “The aim of marketing is to know and understand the customer so well the product or service fits him and sells itself.” Will a publishing house donate some Peter Drucker books to all the Marketing Heads of IT companies?


  1. Arun,

    I am sure, not a single CIO would disagree with your views.

    The important question here is; even though, this is nothing new, why do we continue to get tortured?

    The Feedback Form approach is clearly not working. It is time we take it to the next level.

    We have to say, “Thank you but, no thank you” and walkout.

    Which means, we appreciate the fact that you (Vendor) have sponsored the event ("thank you") and that we are COURTEOUSLY refusing to get tortured with inane presentations ("But no, thank you").

    Several times, I have personally walked out and came back only for the next worthwhile presentation.

    While we are out, we could utilize our valuable time for networking.

    If we continue to play nice, the torture will continue. Just say “thank you but, no thank you”.

    If enough CIOs are walking out on slide decks, the vendors will get the message and they will change for the better. Then there would be no need for walkouts to clear our heads.


  2. Last week I met the organizers of the event mentioned and promised what you propose. They were initially aghast and then willing to play it along. So that's the plan for any future event where the sponsor has no connection with the CIO, off course I hope that the CIOs will cooperate.

    On the other side, I also found CIOs who like the presentations !

  3. Have a look at this:


    One of the latest items under the Chief Information Office (CIO)is "Introduction to C Programming Part 1".

    I mean come on, does a CIO really need or want this?

    I do agree with you that some CIOs may religiously read every item under the topic Chief Information Officer (CIO), even if it is related to C Programming.

    But given a choice most CIOs would not.

    The important thing is that, the CIOs have to know that there is a choice to read or not, endure the torture or walkout.

    Moreover, somebody has to take the lead and others will follow for their own sake.