Thoughts on Presentations

I believe the most important aspect of my role as a CIO is communication. A mediocre strategy well articulated will produce greater results than an excellent strategy that is not understood by those that must execute and support it.

There are many communication vehicles, but those of us at the senior management level must be able to stand in front of a room with a few hundred people and deliver a 30 minute presentation that is effective and engaging.

I enjoy this aspect of my job and I am constantly seeking to get better at it. I think I am better than average, but short of where I want to be. No matter how good one gets at this, an engaging presentation requires time to craft and practice to deliver well. I can still fall on my face if I do not have enough preparation time.

Every time I start to prepare a new presentation I do so with the intent of rivaling what Steve Jobs would do. The limitations of time and talent will keep me well short of that, but that is the mindset I start with.

Most folks in the corporate world start their presentations using a PowerPoint template created by the marketing department; and, most of those templates are awful. When Steve Jobs introduced a new product did his slides have the top 1/3 reserved for a giant title? Did every slide need to be branded with the an Apple logo and tag line. Did those slide use bullet pointed lines of text which he would read to the audience? Be brave, dump your corporate PowerPoint template.

There are a couple of books that I have found helpful and would recommend to anyone wanting to become better presenters. Garr Reynolds’ Presentation Zen has lot of suggestions about the entire process of creating and presenting a presentation. It really shines in the guidance it gives on creating engaging slides, the kind of slides Steve Jobs would use.

Another book that I have recently begun to re-read is Granville Toogood’s The New Articulate Executive. It is filled with presentation wisdom.

If anyone has presentation tips or book recommendations I would appreciate appreciate it if you left them as a comment to this post.

Read The Regulations

Periodicals, blog posts and journal articles are great for gaining an understanding of complicated laws such as HIPAA and the HITECH Act. But, if you are responsible for such an area for an organization, I highly recommend that you read the actual text of the regulation.

Reading the regulations will help you avoid the trap of subscribing to conventional wisdom that is NOT wise. Having an understanding of what the regulations really say will help you find the best solution for your organization.

And, I find that the laws are surprisingly readable. In the case of the Meaningful Use Final Rules, the first 85% of each rule is ONC’s response to all of the comments that they received. These are very insightful and, in my opinion  well-written. The actual regulations are really just a few pages and are a very quick read. The most confusing part is when the rule’s reference a specific standard using the legal number system. But that is navigable (the Find function is your friend).

Be Wary Of Healthcare IT Startups

Mike Silverstein wrote a wonderfully candid story on HISTalk. Everyone that buys heatlcare IT needs to read the entire post. This part in particular is a gem…

“Their [healthcare IT startup companies’] game plan is often the same: spend a bunch of money to hire salespeople who can go out and sell something, then hope something sticks and figure out the rest later.”

My take is this…due diligence is more important than ever and most of us aren’t doing it right.

Creative Marketing Ploys

I can’t imagine how difficult it is for people that sell IT services and goods to reach the people that would buy from them. Every organization has a different org structure and we are all inundated with requests for our time and attention. Many attempts to get our attention are complete failures, such failing to explain precisely what it is that you are selling. I have read complete press releases or magazine advertisements without understanding what is being sold. So, I have an appreciation for those that are able to craft a clear, efficient pitch. Some go the route of being very creative and I thought it would be fun to share some of those.

CommVault marketing

Today I got this in the mail. Not only does it include an innovative give-away (a bottle of BBQ sauce), but I really appreciated the attached letter. It starts…”Blah, blah, blah, blah, CommVault Simpana, blah, blah, blah, modern protection, blah, backup and recovery.”

They really understand how busy people read their marketing materials. They satirize those traditional materials and still communicate the most important message – what they are selling. If I were someone that was currently seeking that type of solution I would be inclined to look a little closer.

I think I am comfortable accepting a $2 bottle of BBQ sauce. But anything more valuable than that would strike me as crossing the line from attention-getter to an actual gift which is subject to several additional policies. Ministry has a policy that dictates gifts from suppliers which includes the following guidance:

  • Decisions made by Ministry Associates in the course of their duties must be objective and based solely on the best interest of the Organization. Decisions should never be influenced by any considerations of personal gain or gain to any personal associate of a Ministry Associate (such as a friend or relative). Purchasing and other decisions are made solely on the basis of the Supplier/Business Associate who offers the best value for the goods and services required.
  • Ministry Associates must avoid doing anything that could give the appearance or suggestion that a purchasing decision may be influenced by any irrelevant or improper consideration, whether illegal (such as a kickback or bribe) or technically legal (such as personal friendship, favors, or Gifts). Ministry Associates shall carry out their interactions with Suppliers/Business Associates in accordance with the guidelines set forth by the Corporate Integrity Program.

I am much more comfortable with things I can share in the office than something I would take home.

Lastly, I am NOT a fan of the ploy where the supplier will give me a gift if I sit through a sales pitch. Typically those enter into the realm of the gifting policy. It is important that I do not create an impression that I am deciding how to spend my time based upon personal gain.



Proactive Customer PC Monitoring

We are users of a cool product from Aternity for application monitoring. The Aternity app runs in the background on our PCs and monitors the end user experience. When a customer says “the system is running slow” we have a wealth of data that can confirm that is the case, quantify how slow, and correlate the slowness with a myriad of other factors (PC model, network segment, OS patches installed, etc.). There are other solutions in this space, including one from Compuware. But, we have been happy with our Aternity investment (a 6 figure expense).

There is a fair amount of setup required to train Aternity how to monitor each application. So, it is not completely magic.

To date we had used this tool to respond to customer complaints and to review monthly performance of our more troublesome applications. But recently our use of application monitoring was taken to the next level by our Field Services group (they support the technologies that our customers touch).

That group is using Aternity as a proactive monitoring tool. They are monitoring three parameters to that serve as an indicator of PC health:

  1. Boot time
  2. Blue Screen of Death (BSOD)
  3. Application launch

When a device encounters a Blue Screen or exceeds a threshold for boot time or application launch it appears on a list. Then, the Field Services team from the appropriate region will replace the device and take the old one back to the device for troubleshooting and re-imaging or disposal.

By being proactive and showing up to replace a device before an incident is reported our Field Services team is creating a “wow” experience for our customers.


Customer Communications During an Outage

There are a few keys that I have found when communicating with customers about outages and service interruptions:

  • Our customers can accept bad news, they cannot accept no news.
  • Getting the team out into the patient care areas, communicating face-to-face buys a lot of goodwill.
  • Don’t use generic email addresses, send genuinely worded emails from a real person, ideally someone that shows the level of attention the problem is receiving (like the CIO). It is easier to be mad at a department than a person who is trying their hardest.
  • Empathize, don’t apologize. Say something like: “We understand that this is disruptive to your work and patient care. This is important to us and we will work day and night until things return to normal. Thank you for your patience and support.”
  • When closing the outage, make sure your customers know that there will be a full Root Cause Analysis and systemic changes will be put in place to avoid a recurrence.

The Project Management Office Air Travel Analogy

Most people think that the role of the Project Management Office (PMO) is similar to that of an airplane pilot. It is their job to make sure that the plane gets to its destination without crashing into the ground.

While that’s true, and a critical role of a Project Management Office, it may not be their most important function. The PMO also plays the role of air traffic controller. That is, they need to prevent projects from colliding with other projects.

At Ministry Health Care we typically have 100 IT projects in flight at any time. All of these projects are competing for the same IT resources. If each of these projects are planned in a vacuum inevitably there will be midair collisions as different projects try and grab the same resources during the same time period. By tracking resource assignments on each project, the PMO can stack all of the projects on top of each other and make sure that no one resource is over allocated during a time period. This allows us to launch more projects, more quickly in the same period of time. Just like an air traffic controllers make it possible land planes more frequently using the same number of runways.