Essential CIO tools: The vision presentation

In my last post, “3 Presentations Every Influential CIO Must Have at the Ready,” I talked about how important it is for CIOs to have three standard presentations at their fingertips to save time, communicate effectively, and build influence.

I called these presentations:

  • The vision presentation
  • The strategy presentation
  • The business presentation

Today I’m going to focus on the vision presentation.

So what’s an IT “vision” presentation anyway?

When I talk about having an IT vision, I’m not talking about being psychic. I’m talking about having a unique and meaningful perspective on the world of information technology and knowing how it’s likely to affect your industry and your company.

In particular, I want you, as the IT leader, to be able to coherently present the threats and opportunities to your company’s future due to the technological developments taking place broadly in the world and in your industry in particular.

For example, I spend a lot of time with executives in the pharmaceutical industry. Right now, visionary IT leaders in pharma are hard at work making sense of the potential impacts on their companies of wide-scale deployment of electronic medical record technology, health portals, and Web 2.0 technologies. While these developments are still new and their futures are unclear, IT leaders in pharma are building scenarios about the potential opportunities and threats these technologies bring to their companies.

Why it’s important to have an IT vision presentation

The number one reason to have an IT vision presentation is because it positions you — and IT — as a strategic contributor to the business and not just as a reactive service provider.

Business executives always want to know about where things are going. They want to know about the opportunities and the threats. If you can bring that information to your business peers, it will set you apart from your average IT leader who just knows how to deliver systems. In additional, it’s important for your team to know that the guy calling the shots has a sense of where things are headed.

On a practical level, having a vision can actually save your company money because you avoid spending money where you shouldn’t and you can get a jump on spending money where you should.

How to create an IT vision presentation

There’s good news and bad news here. Let’s start with the good news. IT is a hot topic in EVERY industry. There are dozens of excellent research companies, publications, analysts, and consultants that produce brilliant material from which you can draw to develop your unique IT vision.

Now for the bad news: You actually have to do some real work to develop a meaningful IT vision presentation. Cutting and pasting from the latest Gartner briefing or meta conference won’t do it. Real vision requires real thought. Now that doesn’t mean you can’t turn to your cadre of trusted advisors. Quite the contrary, you can and should, but don’t expect to just “leverage” some existing generic materials. For an IT vision to build influence, it has to demonstrate insight.

The approach I find that works best is to avoid the generalist publications and futurist pundits who talk about big trends. You aren’t going to impress anyone in your company talking about the future of social media technologies or the tidal wave of software as a service (SaaS). Instead focus on the disruptive technologies that are impacting your industry. Take an especially careful look at both the upstream technologies used by your suppliers and the downstream technologies used by your customers and how they work together.

Once you have a handle on what’s happening up and down the value chain of your industry, it’s time to look at what your competitors are doing. For too many CIOs that means doing a cost benchmarking study, which in itself is not a bad idea, but it yields little insight into the strategic use of technology.

Instead, network with your peers to learn about their key IT investments. What projects they are protecting no matter what and what projects they are killing. Find out what big investments they’re planning for the next five years and why they’re doing it. Try to understand where their business customers are pushing them and why. You will be shocked how much you can learn by asking these few simple questions at industry gatherings and meetings.

Last step: Understand your company and its strategy. Sadly, this is usually the biggest impediment for most people. Most IT executives I deal with claim their companies have not articulated a clear vision or strategy to which they can refer as a basis for identifying the opportunities and threats technology presents to their companies.

Fortunately, as a CIO looking to build influence, that’s not really a problem. In fact, it’s a wonderful opportunity for you. Here’s what I mean. In place of presenting on the threats and opportunities for your company given your vision of IT, you can talk about the potential threats and opportunities depending on your company’s choices and evolving strategy. This type of presentation not only demonstrates your IT vision but positions you as an executive driving a strategic discussion based on market developments.

You will be welcomed into the strategic discussion because it was your research, questions, and issues that gave rise to the discussion.

To sum up: The vision presentation is your essential calling card at the business level. It buys you a seat at the table and it gives you credibility with your peers and with the people who work with you. It’s an incredibly powerful tool for building influence, and the key elements of your vision are likely to be part of nearly any presentation you will make.

Next time we’ll talk about the strategy presentation.

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