By John Parkinson
Working in enterprise technology can be challenging. On the one hand, there are seemingly endless options to do whatever the business wants. On the other, you can’t afford everything (many have tried, it seems), and to actually get something done, you have to make choices and stick with them, at least for a while.
That tends to mean that you end up listening to the same core group of six to 10 vendors on a regular basis.
There’s nothing wrong with that if you have good vendor partners, but if you are dealing only with the major players, you’ll always have a nagging feeling that they are heading for an innovators’ dilemma inflection point—and taking you along with them.
How to Stay on Top of Technology
So how do you find the time to efficiently scan for the emerging ideas and products that would improve your day job but that you don’t have time to discover while you’re doing your day job?
Search engines can help. I almost never have time to read print these days, but online sites, blogs and tweets, if carefully selected, can create a flow of novel content that software can mine for references to the topics that interest me. Active participation in peer networks can help, too (although less than you’d think if you are already pushing the envelope). But for all that, I still wonder what I’m missing. What is it that I don’t know I don’t know?
I used to go and wander around a few trade shows each year (remember Comdex?), but I have never liked the events, and these days I seldom have time unless the event is local. I can afford half a day out of the office, but spending two days travelling to and from places I would not otherwise visit—just to get a sore back and tired feet—isn’t going to work.
However, a new form of “vendor interaction” event caught my attention recently. Get 30 or so smaller or less well-known vendors to fund a day and a half of interaction around an industry and a set of themes. Use the funding to attract forty to a sixty CIOs (and CTOs and CSOs, depending on the themes) and run a sort of intensive speed-dating system, so that everyone gets to spend an hour with folks they wouldn’t otherwise get to talk to.
The vendors get an hour of your time that they otherwise wouldn’t – my assistant would never let them get on my schedule. I get to talk to a dozen or so companies that I might never find. Throw in a few workshops on interesting topics to add some variety. Get some first-class keynote speakers. Sure, there’s still the travel and hassle of being away for two and a half days, but at least I’m not raiding the travel budget for the event. All paid for.
It works surprisingly well. You have to be willing to spend time with a few companies you already know (it’s a big market, and CRM clearly has a ways to go) and with some that you’ll never consider (no reflection on how good they are: you don’t have every possible problem in the technology universe—I hope) but with some forethought, you can get a lot done in a day and a half, interact with a lot of your peers and actually learn something that would be hard to get elsewhere. It is, however, extremely tiring. I don’t work that hard when I’m actually at work.
These kinds of events are becoming more common. My junk mail file archive indicated that I was invited to about four events like this in 2009 (declined them all) and so far in 2010 I’ve had a dozen invitations and accepted four. Not because I like a boondoggle—it’s exhausting, remember—but because I don’t see the answers I need in the major vendors’ roadmaps and I need an efficient way to get at new ideas.
Now, if they’d just hold them in Chicago…
John Parkinson is a Senior Vice President and the head of the Global Program Office at Axis Capital. He is also the Founder of ParkWood Advisors LLC. Previously he was a corporate vice president and the Chief Technology Officer for TransUnion LLC, and Chief Technologist for Capgemini’s Americas region.