In my last post, I described why CIOs and IT professionals need to embrace a customer-centric mindset or risk extinction. With changing expectations of technology-enabled employees, internal IT groups need to break down traditional siloes and start thinking of the employees who consume their services as customers. Otherwise those “customers” will find workarounds, and IT’s tools, processes, and procedures will become irrelevant to everyone but IT.
Although CIOs and IT professionals who insist on working within old, siloed organizational models risk irrelevance, those who embrace this challenge will assume mission critical, highly strategic positions within their organizations. So, what does a customer-centric IT organization look like? Here are three core characteristics:
1. Customer-centric IT is aligned with business strategy
An IT organization cannot become truly customer centric until it ensures that IT development initiatives are aligned with the company’s overarching business strategy. Once a company determines what the experience of doing business with it has to look and feel like to be successful, all people, processes and systems in the company must be aligned to make that experience a reality. This includes all the systems your employees are using.
For example, an organization could determine that customer loyalty is critical to business success. Driving that loyalty requires recognizing that employees are a customer touchpoint, and as such, those closest to the customer must have the tools, information, and authority necessary to address customer issues quickly and decisively. To make that happen, IT must understand what tools and information employees closest to the customer need and exactly how those tools and information will be used.
2. Customer-centric IT knows its customers
Streamlining IT, simplifying back-end systems, and migrating to the cloud might have cost-saving benefits, but they do not have true strategic value unless they also enable employees to work faster/better/smarter. Being customer centric means understanding the various employee profiles and what each needs to perform their jobs in ways that best support the company’s strategic imperatives. This does not mean saying yes to every customer request. It means digging into what the employee is trying to do, what s/he needs to do it, and how IT can help.
For example, if a director of marketing for Brand X comes to IT with a request to build a custom system to allow the brand team to track all creative assets used in marketing their brand, a customer-centric IT organization would not simply agree to build to the director’s requirements just because she is the “customer.”
The first response would be to learn more, not just about the business/technical requirements of the tool, but about what the director hopes to achieve by implementing this system. What will be the measure of success, and does that metric map to the organization’s strategic goals? Who will be using this system: creative agencies, corporate communications, legal/regulatory, marketing managers? How are the people who will actually use the tool currently tracking these assets? Are they using tools and processes they are comfortable with and from which they will need to be weaned? Do they all need to do the same things? And what about other brand teams in the organization? Have they created tools or processes that can be leveraged by Brand X? You get the idea: a customer-centric IT organization engages at the level of the employees it serves, rather than simply taking orders from the mangers who oversee those employees.
3. Customer-centric IT is co-creative
Engaging the employees who will be using the solution in your design and development process is the best way to ensure the solutions you deliver to your organization achieve what they set out to.
Once you’ve identified your target customers, make it a priority to identify employees who fit your various customer profiles. Arrange to have these groups of employees participate in the ideation and solution design process. Once you have the solution in prototypical form, bring your employee groups back into the process to validate that what you are developing is what they expected. Continue to touch base with your collaborators throughout the process.
This co-creation technique not only ensures a solution that is both useful and usable, it creates ambassadors for the solution when it comes time to roll it out to the larger employee population.
The days of reactive solution development are ending. It is time for corporate technologists to get human. That means developing a sophisticated understanding of the complete business context in which IT’s tools and services are used and designing those tools and services to meet the needs of the human beings who will be using them.