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Lights, Camera, IT Action!

Lights, Camera, IT Action!

Too many CIOs and IT organizations consistently underinvest in professional development. That's bad. Even worse, many organizations that pat their own backs for their professional development ethos have shockingly narrow notions of what that should mean

If CIOs are serious about alignment, they might want to encourage their staffs to pick up video cameras and record users in action.

Like enterprise IT, the movies are a global business that blends budgets, talent and technology to make money worldwide. Unlike IT, the movies blend those budgets, talents and technologies in an effort to tell a compelling story.

While compelling is not exactly a word that is synonymous with IT, there's no reason why CIOs can't "go Hollywood" and attempt to tell IT's stories in and outside their enterprise. More important, CIOs should get their people to tell and sell their stories. Everybody who's anybody in enterprise IT should be making mini-multimedia movies for internal - and even external - consumption. Today's CIOs need to become tomorrow's executive producers of their own little silicon studios.

Why? Because nothing quite sharpens organizational focus more than having to tell a compelling story in words and pictures. That's why this isn't just a column about IT moviemaking; it's really a column about professional development. What kind of IT organization are we trying to build? What kinds of alignment between IT and the enterprise should we be trying to create? These are the "professional development" questions that CIOs should be answering.

Too many CIOs and IT organizations consistently underinvest in professional development. That's bad. Even worse, many organizations that pat their own backs for their professional development ethos have shockingly narrow notions of what that should mean.

For example, I know one Fortune 100 company that cheerfully reimburses developers for certification in a mark-up language but declines to pay a penny if they want to learn a language such as Hindi or Spanish. Other companies put their people through project management classes and - God forbid! - managerial leadership classes that focus on the skills and competencies for doing their IT jobs better. Alas, these professional development efforts rarely seem to revolve around helping others do their jobs better. There's a "path of least resistance" quality to professional development investment in people that's both disheartening and, frankly, uneconomic.

The Reel Story

Which brings us right back to the movies-as-professional-development-tool media. Want to roll out a new point-of-sale (POS) system to service employees who barely graduated high school? Send out three or four teams of programmers and project managers with digicams to record interviews and interactions with the users of the existing systems. Have them edit their field research into two or three seven-minute "minidocumentaries" that detail the daily challenges these cashiers face in performing their jobs well under pressure.

Indeed, one restaurant chain did just that: They videotaped cashiers who were using new POS systems and discovered that the cashiers weren't using them in the way the designers had intended them to. These videotapes helped the software development teams hear and see what problems both cashiers and their customers were dealing with in the checkout lines. Another company, IDEO, a design firm, frequently videotapes users in the course of designing new products for its clients. After all, observing the reality of what customers and employees do is the essence of "requirements analysis".

The same principle can be applied to deploying a self-service Web site for customers or suppliers. Why not use digital videotapes that detail how individuals - live human beings, not aggregated server data dumps - hesitate and delay before they point and click? Listen to how they think out loud as they navigate the site. Even a choppily edited movie of, say, seven or eight individuals trying to make the prototype site work for them would utterly transform how a design team would add features and functionality, or strip them out.

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