Lance B. Eliot, Feature Editor, Eliot & Associates
PUTTING TOGETHER AN I.S. ANNUAL REPORT
by Lance Eliot, Eliot & Associates
One of the most neglected marketing tools of an Information Services (I.S.) function is the preparation and distribution of an I.S. annual report. Sadly, I would estimate that probably less than 15 percent of I.S. groups actually put together a formal I.S. annual report. Those that do are usually led by progressive CIOs that understand the need to market I.S. within their firm, and gladly take such a golden opportunity to set expectations within the company about what I.S. can and cannot do.
Besides serving as a marketing tool, an I.S. annual report can also help I.S. staff feel more informed about the collective actions of the I.S. function (otherwise it is difficult to accomplish ``total group awareness'' if an I.S. group numbers in the hundreds of employees). It can also serve as a moment to pause and consider what I.S. has done, and what it hopes to do in the future. This is all part of I.S. leadership for establishing and communicating a vision of I.S./I.T.
As a consultant, I have evaluated dozens of I.S. annual reports, and have led efforts to produce them. I'd like to share some of the lessons I've learned.
Contents of the I.S. Annual Report
Similar in many ways to a business annual report, the I.S. annual report is a compilation of accomplishments of the prior year and a statement of future directions. Just as companies spend a significant effort on preparing and distributing an annual report to the firm's varied stakeholders, so too should an I.S. function prepare and distribute its annual report.
Unlike an overall business annual report, however, the I.S. annual report is normally targeted toward internal employees of the organization (note: exceptions do exist, such as when an I.S. function offers its services to both internal and external customers). The I.S. annual report helps internal customers of I.S. remember all of the accomplishments made in the last year, and can be a valuable means to generate additional goodwill among I.S. stakeholders.
Similar to a business annual report, the I.S. annual report strives to emphasize the positive aspects of I.S. activity.
Included in an I.S. annual report are such items as a description of new applications fielded during the year, overviews of the changes made to the network infrastructure, counts of the numbers of new PC's acquired and set up, and other quantitative and qualitative summaries of I.S.-related activity.
Care must be taken to avoid exaggerating I.S. prowess, especially if I.S. has been slow to produce results or frequently went over-budget. Trying to cover-up a bad year with hype can be worse than gracefully admitting to mistakes that were made (and offering solutions to prevent such mistakes from reoccurring).
The I.S. annual report should have one major theme for each year's production. One year the theme might be ``Quality Is Number One in I.S.'', while the next year the theme might be ``I.S. Grows to Help Grow the Company.'' Consider what major initiative or innovation occurred in the prior year, and then begin to shape the I.S. annual report around that issue.
Since I.S. usually pushes an organization to use modern computing technology, an I.S. group should use proper tools to develop and distribute the I.S. annual report. For example, the I.S. annual report might be prepared in a desktop publishing package, and distributed via printed format, as well as via electronic mail format. Or, for those cutting-edge I.S. groups, the annual report might contain multi-media and other advanced ■content enriching■ modes.
Make sure that the I.S. annual report includes testimonials from I.S. customers. Get the Marketing V.P. to share his or her thoughts on that recent roll-out of PC's to the sales force. Or, get the C.F.O. to comment on the new financial package that was installed mid-year and worked to produce the end-of-the-year financials.
The I.S. annual report can help I.S. customers obtain recognition for their valiant efforts to work cooperatively with I.S. (and, who knows, it might spark other members of the organization to likewise become closer friends with I.S.). If there is an I.S. Steering Committee, make sure it gets prominent play in the I.S. annual report.
Effort to Produce
Of course, putting together and distributing a good I.S. annual report will take dedicated effort. I've seen some CIOs hand the job to a low-level clerk and assume that a glossy result will be produced. Generally, the lesser attention brought to the project, the less the result will be.
In fact, think of the I.S. annual report in the same light as an organization's annual report. Imagine how embarrassed a company would be if their annual report was unattractive or contained typos and erroneous information.
An I.S. annual report should be prepared by a team of personnel. First, assign responsibility for the effort to a high-level I.S. manager. Second, assign an I.S. staff member with strong communication and marketing-orientation skills to the job. Third, allocate the appropriate resources, such as the use of the marketing department or communications department for assistance in production, the use of outside consultants with a specialty at this activity, and so on.
Establish a realistic schedule for producing the I.S. annual report. Keep in mind that statistics will need to be collected and calculated about I.S. activity, interviews will need to be conducted to obtain handy quotes for the I.S. annual report, and other time-consuming actions will be required.
The process of producing the I.S. annual report is nearly as important as the end result (final product and distribution). During the preparation process, I.S. will have an opportunity to collect behind-the-scenes information about how I.S. has been performing■such information can be obtained under the guise that the material will be potentially used in the I.S. annual report.
Just as in making a movie you often leave material on the cutting room floor, so to will decisions have to be made about what actually will end up in the I.S. annual report. How large an I.S. annual report do you want to have? Some are brief (less than 10 pages), while others are exhaustive (40 pages or more).
Make sure that anyone quoted in the I.S. annual report grants their permission prior to actual publication. Indeed, the rough draft of the nearly final version of the I.S. annual report should be reviewed by numerous I.S. stakeholders before the final version is cast in stone and distributed company-wide.
The preceding comments should help more I.S. groups get started toward publishing their own I.S. annual report. If you have one that you would like me to critique for you (complimentary), just send it in to me. If you have one that deserves mention in my column, send it to me for review and I may discuss it in a future column. If you need further help on preparing an I.S. annual report, feel free to contact me.
Remember that your input is welcomed. If you have projects addressing the information technology area, and you would like to share this with readers of "Information Technology," please write to me at the address below.
Dr. Lance Eliot