by Chloe Dobinson

British Council CIO Laura Dawson on understanding the voice of the customer

Oct 19, 2017
CareersIT Strategy

British Council CIO Laura Dawson believes that organisations need to self-disrupt to stay competitive as she discussed the importance of listening to the voice of the customer at this year’s CIO Summit.

Dawson was the opening speaker at the 2017 CIO Summit where she discussed one of the main challenges the charity has faced: understanding the voice of the customer.

“The pace of change means that if you don’t disrupt yourself, someone else will come along and disrupt your market,” she said. “It’s the ability to think about things in different ways, to try different ways of doing things. To grow your business and to look at different opportunities. That’s the bit that’s most important.”

Founded in 1934, the charity-status organisation seeks to promote cultural relations and mutual education between Britain and other countries.

Voice of the customer

Dawson said the organisation has recently made big improvements in the customer journey and is currently exploring its understanding of the internal and external customer.

“The thing that is quite interesting about the voice of the customer is quite often it’s a beneficiary,” she said. “It’s somebody who needs something, who might not have a very strong voice. How do you get that from outside the organisation into the IT department?

“We are looking at the difference between group-facing and customer-facing services. Also understanding that the internal customer is often just consumer. That sounds like I’m bringing them down a little bit, but they often don’t have a choice. We don’t give them a choice, that’s not a customer.”

Dawson described how bringing users into an organisation and having them speak to the IT team can improve IT services. She referred to the NSPCC, a leading children’s charity, and how it found a new way for children to go online and share difficult experiences anonymously.

“The IT department didn’t get behind this particular piece of technology, didn’t really understand it at the time, so they brought one of the counsellors in,” she said. “It’s about bringing that information and conversation into the department and making a huge difference. That’s the sort of thing we need to be doing.

“There’s something about understanding user experience and the customer voice which is a skill that the IT department cannot afford to miss. They need to understand that, they can’t ignore it. It isn’t always the internal customer. How do you find out what the aim of the organisation is? How do you build yourself into that?”

The 2017 CIO 100 high-flyer also announced at the CIO Summit that she will be leaving her role at the British Council to join the London School of Economics as the director of information, management and technology in November.

Dawson added that artificial intelligence is an emerging technology that will have significant impact on IT departments and their organisations, representing both an opportunity and a threat.

Artificial intelligence was one of the emerging technologies which Dawson said would have a significant impact on organisations and IT departments, representing both an opportunity and a threat.

“The AI on language is coming through,” she said. “Interestingly where some of the disruption is coming from is disability; technology around disability and accessibility. The ability to translate text into language, to convert. Those are the areas that are going to disrupt our business and the ones we should be getting involved in.”

Vendor management

Dawson, who has been CIO at the British Council since October 2013, said its relationships with technology suppliers had changed in recent years. The organisation was moving away from customer-supplier relationships with vendors and going deeper into collaboration and partnerships.

“We talk about transformation, it is actually making sure you got the right skills and capabilities within the team and the right culture and attitude,” she said. “Where you see an IT function that is still trying to hold on the control of the tech, rather than the relationship building and the management of that relationship. Then that can be quite problematic.

“It is about making sure that you have the right skills to be updating and it’s not just a supplier, customer relationship. It’s actually something more.”

Dawson has a joint reporting line of the COO and CEO of the British Council, with the CIO admitting that it has been a work in progress when it comes to discussing technology in the boardroom.

The CIO admitted discussing technology at the boardroom level has been a work in progress, but that the chief executive helped.

“My chief executive is very technically savvy,” Dawson said. “He’s come from a startup and has got that mentality.

“He can open doors for the team, have conversations and that’s what he has done more than anything else. He has made it important for everyone from the finance officer to the HR director to understand that we are a technology business too.”