The unforgivable fudge factor

A recent “”Insider”” column on the back page of Computing Canada, Computer Dealer News’ sister publication, discussed a Microsoft event where Bill Gates tried to demonstrate a new technology on stage. Apparently, the ISDN line that worked perfectly in rehearsal of course acted up in the keynote address,

and there was some awkward futzing with computers and wires to try to fix the problem while several hundred IT professionals in the audience snickered.

While that particular section of Computing Canada routinely pokes fun and perhaps shouldn’t be taken too seriously, the unnamed author of the piece suggested that, when it comes to risky on stage technology demonstrations, companies should just fake them. The journalist recommended that Bill Gates should just have gone ahead with a simulation, and the audience would have been none the wiser.

(A cynical person actually might suspect Microsoft of intentionally screwing up on stage demos of new technology, since they happen so routinely and the aftershock in the press — recognizing of course the irony of a tech company suffering public failure of technology — results in a lot of additional coverage, albeit somewhat off topic. But that would be cynical.)

To be sure, that’s the safer route in terms of whether the demonstration would actually work. But there’s a word for purporting that a technology demonstration is real when it’s really not: it’s called lying.

If Microsoft were to have taken the stage to unveil a new technology that was really just a mocked up sham, it would be far more risky than having the real thing fail. New technology by its definition can be flaky, and thus an on stage snafu is forgivable. It’s embarrassing and ironic, sure, but it’s forgivable.

A tech company trying to pretend a demonstration of new technology is real, when in fact it’s a façade, is nothing short of contemptible. It’s unforgivable. Any respectable company knows that. The fallout after being found out could mean days, months, even years of being skewered by — guess who? — the media.

The very same journalist who recommended — incredibly — that Microsoft should dummy their demos I am certain would flay them alive if he or she knew they actually followed through with that advice.

It would be tantamount to Ford giving test drives of its new Focus by mounting its body on top of a Ferrari — and not telling people.

So what can computer dealers, resellers and retailers learn from this?

Honesty is always the only route when it comes to communications, whether in sales collateral, trade show presentations, advertising or comments to the media. There is no alternative to telling the truth. Consciously misrepresenting a product or a service is an indictment not just on a company’s products and people, but on its core values.

It’s vital that companies are up-front and clear with customers on the expectations, costs and timelines of a major software integration, the features and performance of new hardware. They should downplay service and maintenance fees at their peril, even if it means securing a quick sale.

No amount of “”spin”” — which is really just a euphemism for “”lying”” — can repair the damage done when a technology company is seen as misrepresenting a new technology, no matter how well intentioned the company might be.


Andrew Berthoff is senior vice president with Environics Communications Inc., a North American communications agency delivering solutions for the computer industry. He can be reached by e-mail at [email protected]

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