The Future Of IT Belongs To The Customer

by Warren Neuburger, - CIO and EVP,, PGi

If there’s one truth, I’ve experienced working in technology, it’s that IT has to have the ability to constantly reinvent itself. The most common perception of IT as the people in the back room that make all the invisible systems work, fixing your laptop or resetting your password, is ultimately not enough. The traditional industry focus of IT has been on reducing costs and improving operational efficiency, but there’s so much more value to be unlocked by technology.

"Whenever you’re developing new products or evaluating new systems, it's important to keep the entirety of the customer journey in mind"

Without the ability to reinvent itself, IT will remain little more than a cost center rather than providing true, strategic value to the business.

As a CIO, I like to think of my department in terms of customer experience. “Customer” in this case having two meanings: our internal employees that we serve and support, but also the company’s external customers and how our back-end technologies can provide better experiences for them in terms of support, billing, etc.

Technology is at the heart of nearly all of our experiences at work today, and as such IT plays a crucial role in enabling and maintaining those experiences. And the importance of that role extends to both internal and external constituents.

Supporting our external customers

"Improving the customer experience requires technology change, and that's why it is your problem." - Kyle McNabb, Forrester Research

Today's customer experience no longer consists of just one or two touch points. It is instead an end-to-end journey, almost all of which is dominated by technology. From your website to your support structure to your billing systems, technology will come to define your customers' interactions with your brand. Every phase of the journey is important, and, if mishandled, potentially damaging to your company and its reputation among its most important critics.

Because of technology's critical role in customer experience, today's CIO is as responsible for CX as the CEO, or CMO, or anyone else who has traditionally owned it in the past. If you truly want to deliver business value, broaden your focus from just systems to include external customers and their experiences interacting with your brand. We get so caught up in the latest software and infrastructure that it can be easy to forget that the real importance of adopting anything new should be measured in gains to the customer.

Whenever you’re developing new products or evaluating new systems, it's important to keep the entirety of the customer journey in mind. Are the changes you're making enabling easier communications with customers, faster service and software deployment, better customer care or more accurate billing? While cost-cutting and efficiency initiatives are important to the health of the business, these customer-first issues are ultimately the questions that should be framing IT's decision-making in today's business environment.

By starting with the needs of the customer, CIOs can drive tangible business value and growth, rather than just "keeping the lights on."

Partnering with internal customers

From an internal perspective, it has always been IT’s responsibility to research, deploy and integrate new technologies into the workplace. However, thanks to the benefits of Software-as-a- Service, such as easy, near-instantaneous deployment and little to no maintenance, we're at something of a crossroads. Technology isn’t so baffling to line of business owners anymore and the barriers to entry are considerably lower. Leaders at all levels and across all departments are more comfortable with technology and they’re bringing that knowledge to bear in their departments.

The SaaS model has revolutionized productivity. As long as they have power, internet, and bandwidth, LOB owners can deploy and manage their own cloud applications without going through IT. Departments outside of IT—finance, HR, marketing, operations—are allocating increasing portions of their budgets to their own technology initiatives.

So how do CIOs adapt to this changing landscape, where departments can more easily circumvent them to meet increasingly complex technology needs?

It's all about partnership.

Because let's be honest: IT doesn’t always have the skills or experience required to properly marry the people and technology within other departments. We don't understand the personalities, needs and skill sets involved the way those LOB leaders do. So in order to best serve our internal customers to deliver value and contribute to productivity and company growth, CIOs must position themselves not as gatekeepers but as partners, willing to work together and learn how best to serve each departments' needs.

It's really not that different from how we treat our external customers. Learn who they really are, identify their pain points and what they really need to be successful and then purchase or design products and services based on those insights.

The future of IT departments is one built with one eye always on the customer, regardless of whether that customer is an internal employee with a new problem that needs solving or an external client with high expectations when it comes to digital interactions. With a customer-centric mindset, CIOs can create strategies and drive initiatives that deliver meaningful results and contribute to the success of the entire organization.