Selling voodoo isn’t rocket science

“The most engaging reality show of the summer had a happy ending Tuesday. The Discovery has landed.” — Seattle Times editorial, written by someone who doesn’t watch much TV

On the morning of July 26, I awoke as usual to NPR. As soon as I heard that the Space Shuttle Discovery was about to launch, I switched on the television.

Both CNN and “Headline News” showed the launch in short segments that were pretty much a blip of background, “Here’s the launch” — whoosh — “and now sports.” Fox was even more abbreviated, along the lines of: Whoosh! “There goes Discovery and now sports. Naked.” (OK, so I made up that last bit.)

Feeling a little short-changed, I switched over to the NASA channel. I was amazed. Here we have an incredible technical achievement, a truly awesome spectacle, and the NASA channel was like watching paint dry.

It made me think: You often hear the complaint that our youth aren’t interested in science and that the public’s interest in space conquest ranks somewhere between filling out tax returns and having a water heater installed. Why? There’s no sizzle.

This was real rocket science and it had less pizzazz than watching a dung beetle. Big mistake. When your competition is video games, MTV and reality TV, you have got to compete.

What NASA should have done was set up “Mission Control Central,” a high-energy, sophisticated real-time news and analysis TV program with associated Web content that’s all about rocket science and engaging its target audience.

It also struck me that this is exactly what most IT groups fail to do. You guys might think you’re at the bleeding edge of technology, but you’re really at the leading edge of business.

Despite this key role in how your organization functions, your users see you as a bunch of geeks who do that digital voodoo. They see a bunch of hardware and services they hardly understand, which they think of as giving them problems.

Here’s what you need to do: You need a control room, one that your users can see. Your computer rooms need to be at least partially visible. A few flashing lights might go a long way.

Your users need to be given tours of your facilities and experience that incredible atmosphere that comes from racks of computers, killer air conditioning, and the megawatts of power. They need to see the ebb and flow of transactions in some way they can understand and feel they are backed by rocket science.

But more than anything else, they need to be able to give you feedback, to feel like part of Mission Control and care about it. Most customer-facing parts of your organizations don’t have an opportunity to give feedback to departmental management, let alone to IT groups. This is an incredible oversight. It’s like NASA not having radio communication with its astronauts.

Your Mission Control should be used as a vehicle to sell your value and engage your market. Information technology is hot. It’s the leading edge. It’s the future of business. It’s rocket science.

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— Fire one off to me at backspin@

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