A headline caught my eye in a magazine in a hotel bar in Brussels, ‘ Solutions take second place to the story…’

This headline prompted me and another person from the UK to reach for the magazine and want to read further. This story is about both the application of the concept in the magazine title and what happened next between me and the gentleman, whom it turned out, was leading a mobile revolution in the delivery of applications to recipients of care across Western Europe.

The article was about a ‘start up’ film making team, or at least ’start up’ in concept back in 2007. Wong Fu are a group of film makers concentrating on their fans – people who love You Tube, love the short skits and the higher-than-average production quality feature films that they put out for free. Fans that don’t care about the product placement and lap-up the merchandising they now create. The success of Wong Fu has led to a company that the President of the United States of America put on his must meet list in 2011 and who now have over two million followers within social media.

So, how did this get two IT geeks in a bar in Brussels talking? Two things, the headline and the concept! I guess I am susceptible to anything where it talks about creating fans – it is becoming one of my watch phrases for 2014! In this case a small team of creative genius have allowed elements into their delivery that would sometimes turn off the purist, and yet unusually, this resonates well with their audience. In our organisation we have the Open Data Platform, and one of the reasons we landed on this different name was we didn’t want to be seen to openly promote one supplier of Business Intelligence tools over another, and yet we now find ourselves with Qlik and Google in product placement wonderland. I wanted to understand how Wong Fu had been able to drop into this place without harming the reputation they were building, and what was odd as I started up a conversation in the bar, so did the other reader of the same article.

We never worried that we were promoting Microsoft when we pushed out reports and statistics via Excel on SharePoint. That was the opening part to our conversation, and yet now we have invested in tools that are not Microsoft we tie ourselves in knots avoiding mentioning the systems that deliver for us. My peer for the evening went on to say that his product has the same issues. It is a recognisable household name making huge headway in Europe delivering mobile solutions for health, and yet the most common question he gets from customers is how to ‘de-brand’ the solution he offers.

Fans of our Open Data Platform often don’t understand the involvement of Qlik in its delivery, and that’s on purpose. We have gone some way to ensuring that the average customer of the tool doesn’t need to see the Qlik front end. In getting ready for the go-live of our new portfolio management system we are in conversations as to what degree the supplier will be branded on the system. And yet in this article we have Wong Fu making a success of product placement, making it acceptable, maybe even making it cool to place the product at the front of the solution or in their case the entertainment. The question in some ways then is, are we wasting our time? Maybe we don’t need to ‘hide’ the suppliers of our systems and badge them as our own, particularly when we are trying to get across the message that our strategy in the next five years is to procure off the shelf solutions far more than the bespoke solutions we have currently fallen for.

However back to the bar in Brussels … My fellow healthcare IT person asked an odd question during the debate about this subject, ‘how come in IT we strive to hide the brand, and yet many of our ‘dress down’ techies will have a name, be it band, film, comic or fashion house, on probably every item of clothing they wear. What makes what we wear so different in our minds to the IT we will deploy? I agreed that his point was valid, but, the individual with the brand emblazoned across the hoodie is buying into the culture or concept that the name offers, whereas an organisation is often of many minds and won’t want to dive for one representation of culture without significant care and consideration for the name they are getting in to bed with. I still agree with this in the cold light of day, but I really don’t know why we behave like this. If we want fans of the system, and we truly are building a strategy around this, then being clear what the product is maybe a way to create that culture.

The systems we deploy do now tell a story, one that shows the evolution of the industries attitude to IT. The legacy estate tends to be from the large, brand emblazoned across every screen solution type, the new innovations tend to be a little more about the product placement being inherent to the colours used or the look and feel of the product, to me a much better product placement solution.

We recently moved a great deal of our collaboration infrastructure to the Google platform, a decision that goes hand in hand with agreeing to product placement, but however large the clinical research capability in the UK is it is not going to get away with ‘de-branding’ a Google solution. So, we embraced it, we ran engagement days called G-Day, we sought out the Google promotional products and used them on the day to get the message across the organisation, and it really worked very well.

So the fear of product placement in the implementation of Information Systems is diminishing, that helps IT leaders move to a strategy where off the shelf products become a possibility and creating fans out of users is a reality.

There we were, still in the bar in Brussels as we came to this conclusion, two healthcare IT geeks wanting to change the world by learning from a film company in the US, maybe there is hope for us yet!