Developing a Customer-First Technology Strategy

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There’s an ongoing disconnect between what IT managers at many organizations consider as their immediate priorities and actual business requirements in the age of the digitally enabled customer.

When asked to rank business priorities for the next 12 months, IT managers in Computerworld’s 2015 Forecast Study ranked customer satisfaction dead last, behind other goals such as cost containment, business process automation and optimization of existing investments. Barely 15 percent of IT heads and just 10 percent of lower-level IT pros felt that getting better acquainted with customer needs was a priority.

The survey found that the top overall goal for major technology projects is to improve or maintain service levels, but those goals can vary by technology project. For instance, the primary goal for cloud, application development and business analytics is to generate new revenue streams. The top goals for projects like virtualization and on-premise software, by comparison, are service level improvements and cost containment.

Each of these goals is laudable, but incomplete without a focus on the customer. Mobile, social, cloud and smart-computing technologies have completely transformed the manner in which customers interact with businesses these days. Customers increasingly expect a seamless experience when interacting with a business regardless of device type, technology platform or location.

Forrester analyst Alexander Peters, writing for CIO, notes that mobile, social, data analytics and business process management are sources of competitive advantage for companies. Business groups within many organizations have increasingly begun consuming them as cloud services without even involving IT in the process.

For IT to remain relevant in this changing environment, technology leaders need to position IT as a way to improve the overall customer experience, according to Peters. Technology projects that aim to support business change and revenue goals should begin with an understanding of customer requirements.

More broadly, companies need to incorporate customer insights into every aspect of their product design and technology pursuits, says Eric Berridge, CEO of business consulting firm Bluewolf. Writing for Computerworld, Berridge says IT organizations need to be thinking about taking advantage of tools like the connected cloud and the social web to better listen to customers, interpret sentiment and use that information to make decisions on how to support them better.

Learning how customers use your services, identifying who the dissatisfied customers are, knowing the reason for their unhappiness, and measuring the right things are all approaches that IT organizations can take to enable a more customer-centric vision.

As Berridge notes, technical innovation is largely irrelevant if the IT organization does not have a full understanding of customer needs. While goals like cost containment and resource optimization are certainly important, its only by taking a “customer-obsessed” approach that IT can really move beyond what a new technology does to how and why it will actually be used by customers.

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