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Thornton A. May: A year for stories and storytellers

September 24, 2012 06:00 AM ET

Computerworld - Here's my No. 1 forecast for 2013: We will start telling better stories. In the new year, the IT career guillotine will sever the necks of those less facile in the narrative arts. The technology industry in general and IT leaders in particular desperately need to tell more compelling, actionable and understandable stories about the future. In a word, we need to become better forecasters. 2013 will be the year technologists rediscover storytelling. The person with the best narrative about the future wins.

We will craft scenarios of what the future might look like. We will start to dream again, to envision worlds that take full advantage of the technology wonders available to us. And lest we be accused of being lotus-eating, silicon-worshipping Utopians, we will also give voice and visibility to things that we don't want to happen (e.g., data breaches and outages). We will articulate the costs and prophylactic preparations required to make sure that to-be-avoided scenarios are in fact avoided.

A respected Harvard Business School professor, lecturing a group of healthcare innovators, recently opined, "The only thing I know when someone brings me a business plan . . . is that it is wrong." This statement embodies an industrywide misunderstanding of the process of forecasting and the role of forecasters. The focus and measure of a forecast and a forecaster should not be accuracy alone; behavior change must also be taken into account. Accurate forecasts that fail to get something valuable started or something stupid stopped are just so much noise.

It was said that when Cicero spoke, audiences wept. But when Caesar spoke, men marched. 2013 will be the year of forecasts that get IT marching.

Forecast No. 2: IT is going to get its entrepreneurial freak on. In other words, IT needs to use technology to create value. The stories CEOs and boards of directors want to hear are how IT grew the top line (or, in the not-for-profit sector, how IT achieved or expanded the mission). IT executives will be increasingly evaluated on their ability to generate revenue and create second-horizon businesses.

In 2013, boards will be watching whether in-place IT is capable of doing something with technology that differentiates and creates value.

Forecast No. 3: Vendor gibberish will be outed. The power of storytelling will manifest itself on the vendor side of the equation as well. IT decision-makers on the buy side will start to score the narratives of their strategic partners. Many a CIO has emerged frustrated and confused from "technology road map briefings" with vendors. Much of the slideware being humped around meeting rooms today borders on gibberish. Historically, this dissatisfaction with poor vendor messaging has remained internal to the enterprise. This will change in 2013.

Forecast No. 4: IT leaders will gossip. News flash for the vendor community: CIOs talk. They talk a lot and with an expanded array of people about future IT investments. High-performance CIOs will involve university faculty, thought leaders and other members of the value ecosystem to evaluate partner "pitches." It has never been easier or more important to get a second opinion on major technology investments and partnerships.

In the IT space, there has been a shortage of words that stir the imagination. Let's hope 2013 changes that.

Next: Building a better budget

Thornton A. May is author of The New Know: Innovation Powered by Analytics and executive director of the IT Leadership Academy at Florida State College in Jacksonville. You can contact him at thorntonamay@aol.com or follow him on Twitter (@deanitla).

Read more about Management in Computerworld's Management Topic Center.



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