May Issue

IT must face outward

CIOs and IT organizations must focus on readiness for customer contact. There's no better way to elevate IT's status than to make it more outward-facing.

Who are your customers? Why do they buy from you? What keeps them coming back? What would turn them onto your competitors?

Competitors? That's right, I'm talking about your external customers, not your internal enterprise customers. In this industry, we celebrate how technology has moved to the heart of business strategy and how IT--at its very best--can drive innovation and accelerate competitive advantage. But along with all that comes a growing need for CIOs and their teams to sharpen their focus on the company's external customers.

Are you and your team ready for the wilds of a customer-centric world?

I meet regularly with CIOs, and lately I've been asking these questions: "If you could free up your IT team members from certain day-to-day tasks and turn their focus outward to external customers, would they embrace that? Could they effectively communicate with and serve those customers?"

I hate to say it, but many CIOs tell me their teams aren't ready to make such a transition. This signals a serious problem in the current structure of the average enterprise IT team, and in the skills of the team members.

In our 2015 State of the CIO survey, the need to be externally customer-focused came through loud and clear. When asked what an IT team might need to focus on during the next 12 months in order to elevate its relationship with business counterparts, most CIOs said "better communication with the business." But that's not enough. The answer from the 304 business executives we surveyed was much more specific and action-oriented: They said they want IT to have a better understanding of external customers, to the point of calling on those customers and building direct relationships.

Think about it: You have some of the best minds and most innovative employees on your teams--yet they face inward, not outward. What can you do to connect them directly with external customers? Wouldn't this provide a deeper understanding of who is using your products and services--and of why, how and when they're doing so?

The real challenge for CIOs and IT organizations today centers on readiness for customer contact. Do any of your people visit customers with the sales team? Do they listen or respond to customer service calls?

To me, connecting with customers is one of the top issues in enterprise IT today. I can't think of any better way to elevate IT's status than to make it more outward-bound. Write in and tell me what you think.

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