Canada at an Innovation Crossroad?

Howdy from the Great White North where we’ve just wrapped up our annual CIO Canada Summit in beautiful Montreal. We make it a habit to start our year north of the border and this year was no different. The Ritz Carlton Montreal played host to us, and we played host to some of the best and brightest from our neighbors to the north. It is an absolutely fabulous hotel and if you ever have the opportunity to go, you really should make the effort. After all, when NHLers are in town, it’s where they stay too.

Some of the bigger names in attendance included Peter Bruce, Senior Assistant Deputy Minister Shared Services from the Government of Canada; Gerry Boyer, CEO for One Million Acts of Innovation Canada; and Chantal Belzile, CIO from the Business Development Bank of Canada. All in all though we were joined by over 40 very passionate and very smart IT executives who came together to meet, and learn, and plan for their and the country’s future. And clearly the future of the country is just as important to the attendees as is the future of their companies.

The theme of the Summit couldn’t have been more clear – from the opening Exclusive CIO Think Tank where two dozen of the attendees joined me in a private conversation about key trends, through two separate Executive Visions Panel discussions, to our closing Summit Chat Wrap, the only thing on everyone’s mind was innovation. It’s safe to say that Canada, once viewed as a world leader in terms of innovation in general, and technology innovation specifically, is feeling the pressure from other global innovators. The situation clearly isn’t all bad – Canada still has a great ecosystem as a innovation “nursery” – growing the seeds of ideas into the saplings of small “i” innovation. The downfall is clearly the ability to keep growing those saplings into giant redwood big “I” innovations that stand visible and proud for all to see. Indeed, too often it seems that the saplings (and the brilliant minds behind them) are snapped up by other innovators and spirited away to finish their growth elsewhere. No matter how many times we discussed the issue, we couldn’t find definitive resolution, but we did work through a number of options. As CDM’s lone Canadian employee, I’m personally interested to see how things play out in the coming years.

No Summit recap would be complete without a big thank you to the partners that help us put on the event. IBM, HP, Rogers, and Equinox (among many, many others) made sure that as our delegates looked for answers to the innovation conundrum, there were options presented to them to deal with the issue in their own shop at least.

So, 2015 is off and rolling. Coming up in March we have a full slate of events, most notably including our big national events – CIO US and CIO Europe – but with plenty of supporting events as well. If you’re interested in attending, take a look at the schedule and give us a call. We’d be happy to see you down on site and to get you involved in anyway that we can.

Two Weeks, Three Time Zones, Four Summits

It’s been a while since I last wrote, and there’s been a crazy amount going on so this will be a bumper post as I get you all caught up on the last few weeks.

The national CIO Summits are some of our biggest Summits of the year and this fall’s iteration was no exception. It kicked off two weeks ago Sunday (November 9th to be exact) at the fabulous Miami Marriott, Biscayne Bay. As is in keeping with all of our Summits, attendance was limited to less than 50 delegates, so it wasn’t the size of the crowd that made it the biggest, but instead the size of the organizations that crowd worked for. With companies like Carnival, Halliburton, Time Warner, and Bank of America in attendance, it’s safe to say that the roster was littered with CIOs and senior IT executives from across the Fortune 500.

The event got rolling with a Think Tank led by former Chevron CIO Denise Coyne on the ever-challenging topic of IT-Business Integration and Alignment. This served as the perfect icebreaker and warmed everyone up for the conversations to come. Throughout the next few days we listened to keynote presentations from Guru Vasudeva (CTO at Nationwide) and Ted Colbert III (CIO at Boeing), participated in panels that featured speakers from Wells Fargo and FedEx, and sat in on numerous Think Tanks and Roundtables delivered by execs from all industries. If I had to nail the theme for the event down to just one topic I’d have to say it was the new era of digital transformation in which we find ourselves, the collective efforts of IT to respond to the change, and the innovative and dynamic ways in which IT is driving the enterprise forward. For those that were there it was an incredible opportunity to learn and share, talk and understand. For those that weren’t, it was a real opportunity missed.

As CIO wrapped midday on Tuesday, the team eased straight into Mobility. I really have to hand it to the CDM staff as a whole, they never missed a beat as they said good-bye to one group and welcomed another. Rachel and Kristen and Allie and Alex handled the delegate interactions brilliantly, waving goodbye with one hand as they shook hello with the other. Nelson and the boss himself Glenn made sure all of the partners felt appreciated and acknowledged, and our newest team member Joran did an amazing job of going with the flow, following the team’s lead, and integrating beautifully, with just a handful of days at CDM under her belt before she arrived on site.

Mobility didn’t have the luxury of being eased into the way CIO did with a relaxing all hands Think Tank conversation, instead hitting the ground running with an opening keynote delivered by the VP IS for UPS, Ken Finnerty. Ken’s opening talk on delivering enterprise innovation through the pairing of a couple of key so-called “disruptive” technologies – Mobility and Big Data – was bang on in it’s focus and messaging. It certainly set a high tone for the event as a whole.

As the most mature, or at least most widely adopted, of Gartner’s “Nexus of Forces”, Mobility is a discussion that leads not to theoretical guess work, but concrete, real-world case study evaluation. Among those delegates sharing their experiences (both good and bad – no fear of sharing among this group) were speakers from Coca-Cola, the American Cancer Society, and 1-800-Flowers. The applicability of mobile technologies it seems knows no bounds, and companies of all sizes and all walks of life are benefitting from deployments targeted both internally and externally.

We closed out Mobility on Wednesday with an invigorating panel discussion on the future of Mobility, and it’s potential conversion with another hot topic area, the Internet of Things. The conversation was passionate and involved, and our panelists each got there fifteen minutes of fame, wowing the audience with their vision.

With that we wrapped, shook hands, patted backs, and flew off to our various homes for a brief visit with loved ones before the road beckoned again. This time our travels took us to the desert and the FireSky Resort and Spa in Scottsdale, Arizona to host the second of our bi-annual Big Data Summits as well as the CME/Telecom Summit (CME being Communication, Media, & Entertainment).

The Big Data Summit is fast becoming one of our flagship events, rivaling the national CIO Summit as well as the market vertical focused Finance and Insurance Summits as events that draw the who’s who in their fields. It was a little awe-inspiring to see the names and faces in the room with representatives of The Weather Channel, Pfizer, Mapquest, and Capital One all in attendance.

One of the most interesting issues as a result of the Big Data and Analytics investments over the last few years is that of accountability and ownership – just who owns what, exactly? To explore this topic we pitted a Chief Analytics Officer (Pamela Peele from UPMC) against a Chief Data Officer (Donnie Yancey from Mapquest) and let them go at it. No voices were raised, no fingers were pointed, and no fur flew, but a more involved conversation I haven’t seen in a long, long time. After our Think Tank leaders established initial viewpoints, the entire crowd got in on the act, and I don’t think there was a single person that didn’t add something to the conversation. Ninety minutes expired before any of us realized it, and another fifteen passed before we had to be reminded that the networking reception had started, and would we all mind very much heading to it.

That seeding conversation laid the foundations for what would be one of the most interactive events I’ve attended in a long time. Our opening keynote presenter was Gus Hunt, the former CTO of the Central Intelligence Agency. Gus is a dynamic speaker with a great conversational style but more importantly with incredible insights, and tremendous experience. Gus didn’t so much make a presentation as he told a story, weaving together elements of Data & Analytics with others from Cloud, Mobility, and Security in a way that more than one attendee referred to as “the best speech I’ve heard on that topic in my life”. It seemed a shame to end the session, but what came after mitigated that because successive sessions were just as good.

As with the Mobility Summit, the Big Data Summit sessions avoided the theoretical and dove deeply into real-world case studies of what actual practitioners were actually doing. Whether it was Harvard Innovation Labs, NutriSavings, The Weather Channel, or AutoTrader, each speaker brought something meaningful and useful to the conversation, and provided insights that everyone could learn from. And when our close friend John O’Brien from Radiant Advisors presented his company’s vision on how to build the right governance framework, there wasn’t a person in the audience that wasn’t frantically taking notes. The Summit concluded on Tuesday with a panel on just that topic – Data Governance – and so we book-ended the event with active and impassioned debate.

Lunch was a brief affair for the CDM staff this time, with just a brief 15-minute turnaround between the close of the Big Data event and the launch of the CME/Telecom one. Once again the onsite team (Jen, Gina, Kelsey, Jason, and John) handled things with aplomb, transitioning audiences seamlessly and gracefully. As the only constant between teams and events, it always impresses me just how good and consistent a job the CDM staff do, regardless of who is actually doing it.

With CME/Telecom we were working with a much more intimate group, just two dozen individuals, but all highly placed in the industry and their organizations, so the event didn’t suffer at all for the smaller group of voices. Frank Palase, SVP of Strategy and Innovation with DirecTV shared his experiences of 20 years with the organization via a great talk on how to move beyond theoretical strategizing and get to actionable execution. It sounds simplistic I know, but given where IT leaders are at these days in terms of role reinvention, a direct hard-hitting talk like the one Frank gave was great for cutting through the chatter and fretting.

From there our agenda ran wild; we had deep-dive technical sessions on SDN and NFV implementations, people-focused management sessions looking at the workforce of the future, and pretty much everything in between. We looked at the cloud and mobility, understood data and analytics, and evaluated the impact of M&A activities (a particular hotspot in these industries right now). Our analyst partner, the great Ray Mota from ACG Research, also shared his company’s insights into the future impact of virtual managed services, insights that included some very practical and tactical approaches to establishing and measuring value.

And before we knew it, another event was done.

Dinner and drinks by the pool lasted well into the night as fledgling business relationships turned into fledgling friendships, and everyone’s network grew just that much larger, and just that much more tightly knit. As Wednesday turned into Thursday, we wended our way to the airport all tired but fulfilled after yet another round of successful CDM Media events. Next up CIO San Francisco on December 4th, and then back the FireSky the 7th through 10th for CISO and Cloud. I hope to see you there.

The Great CDM Events Machine Rolls On

Another week, another three fabulous events as CDM Media keeps churning out great experience after great experience for for IT Leader delegates and our sponsor partners.

Last week we took a “dual pincer” approach with Rachel leading a team into Panama City and I leading one to first Boston and Dallas. Rachel’s already shared some of the high points of the LATAM Summit, but in case you missed it, here’s a recap:

On Sunday, a team of small in number but big in heart departed Chicago headed for Panama for our 4th annual CIO Latin America Summit.  The delegation consisted of attendees from some of the world’s largest brands, such as Philips, Manpower Group, Sony and Pampa Energy, and many flew in from all corners of Latin America, including Brazil, Mexico, Argentina and Chile. 

The summit went off without a hitch, and the setting of the Westin Playa Bonita Panama was a perfect location to host our delegates and attending sponsors. 

Well done to the team that tackled this event, which isn’t easy given the amount of countries often involved.

Much the same should be said about the events in North America.

Our Boston Summit (first time ever hosting a regional Summit for the folks in this part of the world) featured delegates from notable companies like State Street Bank, CVS, and Philips. Local government was also well represented as senior execs from both the City and the State were in the audience. The partner list was a who’s who of key CDM relationships as well as Qlik, Rimini Street, Pythian, and Mimecast all came out to meet the local delegation. The event was held in the Historic Harvard Club of Boston and the venue space, the Massachusetts Hall was dedicated to the “Great Massachusetts Men of Harvard” who have served instrumental roles in the government that has formed and grown this country, including past Presidents John Adams, John Quincy-Adams, and John F. Kennedy. With their portraits looking on, we had quite the audience.

With Boston in the books we winged our way to Dallas, again for our first ever regional Summit in that location (though we’ve been to Dallas before for non-regional events). I’d say our location, the Intercontinental Dallas, was just off the highway and so easy to get to, but everything in Dallas is just off one highway or another, so that really doesn’t count. Ed Marx, CIO of Texas Health Resources and a noted public speaker kicked the day of for us with an inspiring presentation on innovation, a message that was repeated many times throughout the day. Indeed it was repeated right until the very end when Anjana Harve, CIO Americas for Novartis echoed many of the same themes. In between we looked at Data Governance, Cloud Architecture, the impact of Mobility. We were supported in Dallas by Good, ServiceNow, SoftwareAG, and by our good friend Jay from Zscaler and everyone had a great event.

The onsite team of Jen Rosa, Stephanie Nelson, Justin Sirni and Valery Rosser did an amazing job at both Summits of keeping things moving smoothly and efficiently, of keeping the partners and delegates engaged and happy, and cementing relationships for continued future success. A hearty congratulations goes out to each and every one of them.

The various divisions now get a week off of travel to recap and reconnect with loved ones before starting a big push in November that includes CIO UK, the Sourcing Summit, CIO US, Mobility, Big Data, and CIO Communications/Media/Entertainment and trips to London, Miami and Phoenix. With events and locations like that, it’s clear that we have the best job in the world.

Heading to the Homeland for a Week

Last week I had the opportunity to travel to the UK for a few days, to attend the CIO Finance EU Summit on Wednesday, and work with the new sales staff on Tuesday and Thursday to bone up on their content knowledge. It was a good week and I thought I’d share a little of the experience with you.

I arrived Tuesday morning and the VP of EMEA, Ollie Stebbings graciously arranged to have Sophia, the new Office Manager pick me up at the airport. Of course Ollie forgot to tell either of us what the other looked like or share contact info, so we weren’t quite sure at first who we were looking for or who each other was. Fortunately Cardiff airport is a touch smaller than O’Hare and Pearson (my “home” airports) so we were able to get it figured out pretty quickly. Sophia ran me into the office (thanks for that Soph) and I got to see the space and meet the whole team for the first time. By all accounts, Cardiff has come a long way and there’s a good number of staff their. Our VP of HR Mike Deedigan was in the office also working with the latest round of hires (Pippa on the RM side, Stacey and Jamaine for the BDMs) and these three bring the total contingent to well over a dozen. They’re a young group for the most part, but clearly committed, and the new staff especially were just enthralled with the CDM culture and business.

About 4:00 we left to head to London with Ollie driving us down in his Dad’s car (it must have been his Dad’s – no self respecting person under 80 drives a Jag, right?). Traffic was what you might call awful – it seems the Brits get thrown for a loop by potholes as one developed on the M4 and it helped turn what was supposed to be a 2.5 hour run into a 5 hour slog. The other part of that of course was London’s famous (infamous?) traffic and any North American that’s used to a neatly laid out grid of streets would probably find it as chaotic as I did. By the time we got checked into the hotel it was about 9:30 local and we still hadn’t eaten dinner (or for me, slept in 36 hours). The team were in great spirits though and after a quick bite we turned in, to get ready for the event the next day.

The day of the event dawned grey and dreary (because it’s Britain) but that didn’t deter the delegates who began arriving promptly. Our MC, Marcus Harris commented how unusual it was to get so many people out so early in London and indeed, by the time our opening speaker, John Finch, CIO for the Bank of England and a seriously big deal took the stage, the room was packed. John’s talk about innovation and IT changing the business was entertaining and insightful and really set the stage well. From there everything proceeded apace with one good session after another. The Park Place Westminster was a great location and the rooms were all clustered closely together, meaning it was easy for the delegates to get around and even easier for the team to stay on top of them. Not one Executive Exchange was missed, and not a single word of complaint was heard throughout the day. Our keynote sponsors, Nuage Networks and Actifio, both had great sessions, were well received, and indicated that they got lots out of the day. Actifio liked it so much they committed to a bunch more events for a bunch more money, and at the end of the day CDM had another great event in the books. This one really was as good as anything that has been done on this side of the pond so a hearty congratulations to the whole on-site team (Ollie, Nadia, Andy, Abi, Steph, Gina, Sophia).

Back to Cardiff by 11:00 (no traffic on the return journey, but lots of Welsh fog) to get all set for one more day in the office. Bright and early start (it really was bright, honestly – the first day with no rain) to a day that was all about training, training, training. Brett and Paige and Tom and Kate all took turns with me digging into their coverage areas to find out what made it relevant, what made those companies tick, and what we could do to appeal to those vendors. Each time I had to chase them out of the office and back to phones because their questioning and diving deeper just kept going; it was clear they wanted to learn more and wanted to use those insights to help them succeed. Then it turned into a free for all, with a queue of people at my desk wanting to learn about different technologies, understand different market segments, discover different technology providers (and potential sponsors). Sophia kept the tea coming, and the team did the same with the questions. And at the end of the day, when all was said and done I thanked the team for welcoming me, and they thanked me for giving them a little bit of insight.

On the day I was hired Glenn told me that Cardiff was key to the growth plans for this company and having been there and met the team I firmly believe his faith is well placed. They may not have the experience that we have in the Chicago office, but they have just as much passion and drive. With Ollie providing strong leadership I think it’s fair to say that the Cardiff office is every bit a part of CDM as the New York and Chicago offices are.

Guten Morgen von Frankfurt, Good Morning from Frankfurt!

Today I’m writing from the Grand Westin Frankfurt after the completion of CDM Media’s CIO GAS (Germany/Austria/Switzerland) Summit. It was only a single day event, but a great one nonetheless.

First, for those of you that haven’t been to Frankfurt (like me prior to this trip) a little bit about the area. Frankfurt is the self-described “most international city in Germany” (fully one third of the residents don’t hold a German passport) and is the largest financial centre on the continent. It’s also a city rich in history – it was the home of Emperors and the site of their coronations for centuries and is the birthplace of Goethe, perhaps the most famous German son. It is, in short a fabulous city – metropolitan, cosmopolitan, and a fabulous blend of history and future.

But enough with the wide-eyed touristy stuff, and on to the event.

Our day started with a rousing keynote delivered by Wiebe van der Horst, SVP Global Process & Enterprise Architecture for BASF who, if you haven’t seen the commercials, make the chemicals that make just about everything around you. Wiebe’s talk on how IT needs to (and in fact how they can) move from being a reactive cost centre to a proactive value generator was the perfect way to kick the Summit off and really set the tone for the entire event – this was a topic that we would come back to time and again.

Next up was our title sponsor, Wipro, one of the world’s largest technology consultancies, to discuss their take on enabling digital transformation. Their Chief Executive for Global Infrastructure Services, GK Prasanna, got the ball rolling but quickly handed over to one of his good friends, Pierre Dulon, the CIO of Credit Agricole who had come up from France for the day. Any time one of our partners goes to the trouble of bringing in a practitioner to speak with them the effort pays huge dividends as the audience is so much more engaged with the messaging.

From there, the day unfurled at a break-neck pace with a steady flow of partner and delegate sessions. On the partner side we hosted (in no particular order) Unify, Actifio, Dell Software, Good Technology, EMC, Equinix, Blackberry, Virtual Instruments, and ServiceNow. Our delegate speakers were just as impressive as we had (among others) the Group CIO for the OMV Group (a passionate speaker), the CIO from Sulzer Management AG (a woman that has turned not just her IT department but her company around in a mere 18 months), and the Head of Global Transformation for Zurich (and you thought insurance companies were stodgy).

We wrapped our day with a great closing Panel discussion, sponsored by Fujitsu, that summed up the big issue of the day perfectly – Achieving Transformation. I’d like to say the conversation started mildly, but from the very first question the panelists and the audience were heatedly (but good natured-ly) discussing the biggest and most pressing issues in IT – the future of the department and the role of the CIO, the best ways to deliver business value through innovative ideas, the challenges with staff, and budgets, time and other resources, and how to effect a culture change within their enterprises to finally get rid of the IT-Business divide, a divide that IT is just as guilty in the creation of as is the so-called “Business”.

Of course, no discussion of an event is complete without hearty congratulations to the CDM staff. Ollie Stebbings, the VP of EMEA, and his team did a great job. Gina Dello was a one-man (woman) gang on the registration desk using grace and charm to keep the at times throng peaceful and content. Nadia Ashton and Stephanie Griffiths managed the flow of the day beautifully, keeping the delegates on track and helping them all get to exactly where they needed to be, exactly when they needed to be there, and all with a minimum of fuss. Ollie kept the partners happy (not that they had any reason not to be) and helped a number of them see that they absolutely needed to be involved with the full program the EMEA office is running while Nelson Soares, who joined me from the Chicago office, did the same for the delegates. It will be great, due to their efforts, to see familiar faces at other European events. For me, I got to smile and chat, laugh and make friends which at the end of the day is probably just about the best job in the world.

So, that’s a wrap on another great event. Next up for me is CIO Washington DC. Next week. No rest, apparently, for the wicked. I hope to see you all there. Auf wiedersehn!

Finance & Insurance Summit Recaps

This week we completed two more fabulous events and I’d like to take a few moments to share the details of those events with you all.

We’ve been running both the Finance and Insurance programs for some time now – for those of you that didn’t know CIO Finance was our first ever summit and so the one this year was our seventh iteration. CIO Insurance hasn’t been around quite as long; this being “only” the fifth time through. So, two well-established programs with a big track record of success; quite something for the team to live up to. Well, I’m happy to report that, due the efforts of a not inconsiderable number of people, we’re looking at resounding success once again.

For the third year in a row we hosted the events at the Four Seasons Atlanta. For those of you lucky enough to have been to Finance or Insurance in the past, you know this is one of the best venues we attend and for those of you that haven’t, let me tell you you’re missing out on a good one. The event space itself is both attractive and well laid out, big enough in size to suit our purposes exactly, yet small enough that we get the whole place to ourselves. Glenn should definitely take note as he firms up the plans for our own space in our own building. On top of the space though are the food and the service, both of which are impeccable. Both were impressive for a jaded traveller such as myself, so just think of the impression left on our delegates and even our sponsors. You could tell that they knew they were in for a top-notch event the moment they walked in the door.

We hosted a great group of delegates at both events including notables such as Anil Cheriyan, EVP & CIO of Suntrust Banks and Kevin Rhein, Senior EVP (SEVP?) and CIO of Wells Fargo at Finance and Donna Peeples, Chief Customer Officer at AIG and Praveen Reddy, CIO at AON. Small titles from little companies… All told we hosted nearly 80 incredibly senior IT execs (the vast majority VP level and higher) from a nearly equivalent number of powerful and influential American and Global companies. Hats of to the RM team for delivering once again (and coming through in the clutch to do so) with a great delegation. Hats of also to both Bart Mack and Jen Clark (at her first ever CDM event no less), our onsite RM contingent, for their work in engaging with the crowd, in keeping them entertained, in helping them see the value inherent in our program, and in getting a ton to rebook while onsite.

Our BDM team was just a successful in making sure we had the right sponsors with the right messages at the Summits. Small companies that you might not have heard of like Cisco, IBM, EMC, Software AG, SAP, Ernst & Young, and PWC. The list just goes on and on. In fact on just these two events we took in more than $1.5M in sponsorships and that goes a long way to helping us meet and exceed those steep growth curves year after year. Heck, Cisco loved these events so much that not only did they take a keynote at each they took multiple additional sessions at both. When one of the world’s biggest and most successful companies invests so much mindshare (and dollars) in the forum we provide, I don’t think there could be a bigger endorsement. The onsite team of Mark Southam and Mina Chan was tireless with Mark re-upping a whole host of the onsite vendors while Mina took sales call after sales call from the hallway, iPhone in hand, laptop on her knee.

Of course, no write up of a CDM event is complete without a big round of applause to Rachel Tait and her CS/EM team. Rachel, Jen Rosa, Kristen Pandy, and even new-to-the-team Stephanie Nelson worked tirelessly, arriving before anyone else each day, and staying long after everyone else had retired. They managed the flow of the day, the constant change of individual meeting schedules, the flights, the rooms, the meals, and about a million other details with such poise that no-one even noticed all the work they were having to do to make things run so smoothly.

Some of the additional highlights of the events were the golf simulator sponsored by ISCS Software and the Scotch and Cigar night sponsored by Castlebay Consulting. Our own Mark Southam walked away with the longest drive competition thanks to a 356 yard drive that obliterated the field with nearly 50 yards on the next closest competitor (hey Mark, ever hear of “vendor golf”?). Mark was however “gracious” (no short game on that boy) enough to let Andy Scurto, President & CEO of ISCS win the closest to the pin contest. Andy’s victory was much tighter with his 14 foot distance only just standing up over a whole host of challengers. When it came to the extensive selection of single malt whiskeys and the hand-rolled Cuban cigars, Mark took it easy on us and made sure they were equally shared by all. George Grieve, CEO of Castlebay was gracious enough to not just host the night, but to help people find the right scotch for their palate and experience, ensuring everyone was a winner this night.

So that’s that – another two great events in the bag, another host of satisfied sponsors, and another crowd (two actually) of happy and engaged delegates. Keep up the great work CDM.

Phoenix in August

For those of you not intimately familiar with the events “game”, no one really does much over the summer months, the biggest reason being that the delegates are all on vacation. Not for the whole summer obviously, but you can pretty much guarantee that at some point over the course of July and August, anyone that is anyone is going to be unavailable. So we use the time to plan and prepare (and take vacations ourselves), and to get ready for the fall.

While Labor Day (or Labour Day for the Brits and Canucks) generally marks the end of summer, and therefore the end of the quiet period for most events companies, here at CDM we don’t think like most and so we used this week to get the jump on a packed fall program, with four back-to-back-to-back-to-back events that kicked off last Sunday, and concluded on Friday.

Holy Hannah, what a week!

We got things rolling with our CIO Retail Summit, at which we hosted over 40 IT executives from such leading companies as Costco, CVS, eBay, and Neiman Marcus. We had grocers, and office suppliers, clothiers and restaurateurs. It was, I have to say, a great crowd. In terms of the key topics for the event, not surprisingly Big Data and data analytics surged to the fore. For retailers of all sizes the challenge is to be able to better identify and appeal to the optimal customer. Naturally to do that these retailers have to collect sufficient pertinent information to know who the optimal customer is, and understand just exactly what appeals to him or her. It doesn’t seem so long ago that Big Data was described by many as a solution looking for a problem, but that certainly no longer seems to be the case. Secondary issues all stemmed from that need to better relate to the end customer and we explored the “Privacy/Personalization Paradox” and looked at the impact of third party mobile usage (so clients, not employees). And of course, what IT discussion wouldn’t be complete without a dive into Agility, Innovation, and Transformation.

As the Retail Summit wrapped, the CIO Manufacturing Summit kicked off and so we were saying goodbye to one set of friends as we were simultaneously welcoming another. Again, our list of attendees read like a who’s who – CVS stuck around for the second conference and were joined by Halliburton, Boeing, Goodyear, and Whirlpool. It was the Chief Data Scientist for Halliburton, Dr. Satyam Priyadarshy in fact that delivered out opening keynote, and if you think you’ve got Big Data needs, you should see those of a multi-national drilling and mining company. Suffice it say that his presentation moved the dial in terms of what an analytics program could look like for all the attendees. Big Data, clearly, was an issue for the manufacturers, though the focus was a little different. Many of them were implementing programs focused internally, on finding efficiencies within their production facilities as more and more shop floor systems become IT enabled. Naturally this lead to many conversations about IT/OT integration, which of course, is just another flavor of the IT and business alignment conversation that all CIOs have been having over the last few years.

The Manufacturing Summit brought us to the end of day Thursday, and we celebrated two great conferences in the bag with dinner and drinks with the outgoing delegation. We packed them off to bed for their early morning flights home, and ourselves off to bed because we still had two conferences to go. Both CIO Utilities and CIO Government would be starting the next morning and between the two we’d be welcoming over 80 executives.

For our Utilities event we drew speakers from Duke Energy, Exelon Corporation, AES, and E.ON. Our topics ran the gamut – no hyper focusing on data here (though it was certainly one of the topics) and if any one seemed to be pre-eminent is was risk management. Whether it was IT security, physical security, disaster preparedness, or regulatory compliance, managing organizational risk seemed to be the biggest concern. Utilities face many of the same challenges as Manufacturers (since they “manufacture the electrical and gas supply) and Retailers (since we’re all their customer in the end) and so many of the issues from the earlier conferences bled into this one.

With representatives from Federal, State, County, and Municipal governments, it’s safe to say that we covered all levels of public administration in our CIO Government Summit. We had coast-to-coast coverage, though the other sunshine states (California and Florida – we hosted in Arizona) were the ones most heavily in attendance. For these attendees their challenges mirrored what we saw in the private sector 18-24 months ago with a heavier focus on Cloud, Mobile, and the early phases of Innovation and Transformation programs. The unique financial constraints placed on public administration necessitate this slower more methodical approach, the benefit being our government agencies get to benefit from all of the learnings of the private sector.

So there you have it. Four great conferences. Over one hundred and fifty senior IT executives from various different industries. A variety of themes, challenges, and issues and just as many insights, lessons, and new relationships. As a kick-off to the fall program, I don’t think the week could have gone better, and I look forward to meeting all of you reading this at one of our many upcoming events. To see the list, and determine which one makes the most sense for you simply click here.

Hello, my Name is…

Today we have a posting from a guest writer. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.

Allie

Hello, my name is Allie and I’m the new kid at CDM Media. Thanks to the hiring drive out of the Chicago office I have found my new corporate home. Joining a company that has grown 21% in just the first six months of 2014 is really exciting. It reinforces that I made the right decision to come here, and that the career opportunities for myself within the company are just getting better and better.

I come from a company that has worked with and sponsored CDM Media summits for years. I managed upwards of 20 events a year, everything from internal corporate events, conferences, and tradeshows. I have experienced it all as an event manager: uphill contract negotiation, 50 pages of sponsorship info to sift through, misplaced tradeshow deliveries, rogue sales guys on the show floor. If there is one event that I knew was going to be valuable yet easy and seamless, it was a CIO Summit with CDM Media.

The experience of sponsoring a CIO Summit from contract negotiation to event follow-up has always been painless. My dedicated Client Services Manager helped me understand the deliverables, and stay on track for deadlines. The sales guys I sent always came back happy, usually having had successful one-on-one meetings with senior executives that it would normally take them months or years to meet otherwise. Knowing how great it was to work with CDM Media made it an easy decision to come work for CDM Media.

Now that I am on the flipside as a Client Services Manager for CDM Media, I can see why the events are run so well. It is admittedly a niche employment opportunity, but the people that work here are dedicated to the company and making their delegates and sponsors happy. The newest trend across all industries is excellence in customer service. This is how a company differentiates itself from its competitors, and creates repeat and referral business. I see this thread pop up over and over again in messaging, presentations and branding. While many delegates speak about this at our summits, CDM Media also practices it as is evident by its double-digit growth in only two years.

I am one month in to my new role, and I couldn’t be happier. The company culture is hardworking and committed, but also young and fun. I’ve been allowed on the company softball team, even though I warned my co-workers I haven’t swung a bat in years (luckily for me it’s more about the comradery and post-game beers than whether we win or lose). Just as when I was a sponsor, CDM Media team have taken me under their wing and showed me the ropes. I’m looking forward to the coming months with CDM Media, and combining my past experience with new skills to create a memorable summit.

I would absolutely recommend working at CDM Media. Some great open career opportunities can be found here.

Cheers!

Allie

Presentation Design, the Definitive Guide

Okay, so “Definitive Guide” is more than a little presumptuous, but hopefully it got your attention. Which is kinda the point; your presentation materials should be designed to get attention, to create a sense of interest, and not to bore the living bejeezus out of the audience. How to do that? Well, there’s a few guiding principles that you need to follow. I’m not going to take all the credit here; a lot of what I’m going to present is derived from the work of Garr Reynolds and Nancy Duarte. Their books, Presentation Zen and Slide:ology, are akin to bibles for a lot of people and if you are going to deliver even one serious presentation in your life you should read them. But if you just want the Cliffs Notes version, I’ll try and summarize here.

Point One – this is the most important (and I mean THE. MOST. IMPORTANT.), the slides support the speaker, not the other way around. People don’t come to your presentation to read what is written on your slides, they come to your presentation to hear what you have to say, to hear your message. Time and time again I sit through presentations where the speaker narrates the slide, either by reading it verbatim, or by describing what the slide is showing. Newsflash – the audience can read the words or follow the diagram themselves. I’ve mentioned this before in this blog, but it bears repeating. Now I’m not saying abandon all slides, just remember why you are using them; as the visual aid to support your message, to help ensure greater “stickiness” so that what you say becomes more memorable.

Point Two – design your slides for the back of the room, meaning build slides that can be seen and interpreted by the guy sitting in the very last row, rather than just by the people sitting in the front row. If you are going to take the time to build slides, don’t you want to make sure that they can be seen/read/understood by everyone in the audience? Building slides that have incredibly dense amounts of tiny-font text or small diagrams achieves the exact opposite of the goal of the slide (supporting the message, see Point One). Either you force the audience to strain to make out the details of the slide (and forcing that much effort into visual comprehension takes that much effort away from auditory comprehension) or you provide incomprehensible support materials because the details can’t be made out no matter how hard the audience tries. Bigger fonts, bigger diagrams. If that means less information on each slide, that’s ok because…

Point Three – include only one idea per slide. Remember: the slides are there to support your speaking and so each point you make needs individual support. This probably means building more slides than you intended, but that’s ok because each slide will be simpler and easier to build. And because they’re simpler, they’re probably going to be easier to read from the back of the room (see how that works?). Sometimes ideas are not simple though and so they need to be supported by complex slides. That’s ok, but if you are going to create complex slides make sure that you are using animation to literally build the slide out as you build the point with your speech. A nice tasteful fade effect is best and it’s really the only time you need animation. Whizzing and swirling and bouncing slides and slide elements just create visual noise that detract from the two most important things – your message, and the slide’s job of support.

Point Four – use fewer words and more pictures. This, believe it or not, is the trickiest thing for amateur presenters to master, but the thing that has the most profound impact on the, well, impact of the slides. Human beings are extremely visually oriented and consume via watching far more readily than by reading. It’s part of why the publishing industry is a $30B industry and in decline while Film & Television is $522B industry and growing. Making the shift from slides that have long lists of bullet points to ones that have diagrams, models, and photographs will (when done well) create a visually compelling tapestry that allows people to understand complex ideas, concepts, and relationships quickly and easily, without distracting from the actual presentation you are presenting. And those long lists of bullets points can still be kept as the speaker notes if they really do summarize the essence of your message.

That’s not it by any stretch of the imagination, but it’s certainly enough to get you started on the path. Keeping these principles in mind as you prepare for your next presentation will hopefully help you make slides that do a better job of supporting your message, and therefore help you do a better job of delivering that message.

Step Away from the Slideware!

By virtue of my role, I attend a lot of conferences, and witness a lot of presentations from a lot of different speakers, few of them professional or even what you would call practiced amateurs. On the whole, these non-speaker speakers generally do a good job, all things considered. All things being the fact that this isn’t what they do for a living, likely isn’t even something they do  very often, and so they don’t have a world of experience. There is one thing however that they all do consistently poorly. Let’s look at an example.

A few weeks ago week I was in Miami hosting three back-to-back conferences. As the attendees arrived for the third conference, one of the speakers came up to talk to me; let’s call him “Bobby” to preserve his privacy. It turned out the Bobby knows I speak a lot, knows he doesn’t speak a lot, and was hopeful of getting feedback and pointers on his session. It also turned out that Bobby was going to be the very last speaker of the conference. Now, last speaker can be a decent slot since you’re the one that gets to leave the final impression. But it can also be a pressure-filled slot since you’re the one that gets to leave the final impression.

Bobby was awesome. He knew his material cold. He spoke with passion and authority. He answered every question seamlessly, and with an honest and not made-up-on-the-spot answer. He engaged the room and made the thirty minutes go by quickly instead of agonizingly slowly. And he never once looked at his slides. Slides that were, I’m sorry to say, painfully awfully terrible.

And this brings me to what speakers consistently do poorly. It’s not making bad slides. It’s misunderstanding the point of the slides.

Too many speakers approach a presentation from the perspective that their speech is there to support the slides when the exact opposite is the truth. People don’t come to a presentation to see what your slides say; they come to hear what YOU say.

When I gave Bobby my feedback he was initially pleased, but when I told him to chuck his slides and go it without them a look of panic settled onto his face. He couldn’t conceive of not having the dense, wordy slides he had built as the very core of his presentation. I cajoled and persuaded and I think I got through to him. Now I’m going to cajole and persuade you. Hopefully it will have the same effect:

  1. The audience came to see you, not your slides. The central component of a great presentation is a great speech. It’s not the visuals on the screen; it’s the messaging you deliver. Make sure you have something worthwhile say.
  1. It’s ok to have slides but remember their role. The slides support your message, provide the visual cue to the “aha” moments in what you are saying. A visual cue is not the script of your presentation, nor is it a bulleted list of the points you intend to make. It is a picture, a chart, a data point, a word. Your slides should be a series of these, and nothing more.
  1. Without that slide crutch, you’re going to have to practice. What made Bobby’s presentation great was that he knew his material. He knew the points he wanted to make and he knew when and how to make them. Because he wasn’t winging it, relying on the words on the slides to bail him out. Because he’d practiced.
  1. Tell the complainers they’ll just have to pay attention. If anyone in the audience indicates they’d like slides, or the provided slides to be denser so they can “follow along”, gently remind them that humans can either read or listen but not both at once. And that they’re really there to listen.

If the President doesn’t need slides when he delivers the State of the Union Address, and Martin Luther King didn’t need slides when he delivered his Dream speech, you don’t need slides when you deliver your presentation. Step away from the slideware and your message be heard more clearly.