For years, IT has played an enabling role in business. By building a robust, flexible technology infrastructure under the guidance of the CIO, IT has helped deliver more efficient operations, ensure data protection and privacy, and meet stringent regulatory requirements.
However, business operations have evolved to where IT must now broaden its focus to help the company attract, retain, and grow customer relationships and increase customer satisfaction.
After all, it is customers who generate revenue. And in a digital world where customer expectations are high and just one negative online experience can turn a customer to a competitor’s site, businesses must begin now to provide the processes, infrastructure, and services to ensure customer loyalty.
A shift to customer events might mark a significant change for some businesses. In fact, it has not been uncommon to see up to 60% of a company’s resources dedicated to implementing and maintaining the financial systems needed to ensure compliance with Sarbanes-Oxley and other regulations. Many IT organizations, in turn, have spent the last couple of years working feverishly to address these demands.
Indeed, similar initiatives drove many organizations to realign their reporting structures so that the CIO and IT department were accountable to the CFO and financial department. It made sense, considering the importance and urgency of establishing the sophisticated infrastructure called for by such regulations.
But today, CIOs have the opportunity to revise where IT resources are applied and connect IT projects to revenue sources. And the customer is where businesses generate revenue. By enhancing the customer experience, IT enables business to generate more revenue, increase customer satisfaction, and ensure customer retention.
Unfortunately, in many companies today, a schism still exists between IT and customer-facing departments. According to an August 2005 Forrester report titled Why Do Great Web Sites Crash?, marketing and customer service typically own the customer experience, even though IT owns the technology infrastructure upon which many customer services are built and run.
Furthermore, IT is seen to have little incentive to satisfy customers since their site-analytics tools often do not capture speed problems, errors, or network outages—making it difficult if not impossible for IT to be aware when problems with site availability and performance occur.
Through close collaboration with sales and marketing, the CIO and IT can become a valuable contributor to activities that directly increase the company’s profitability and growth.
The possibilities are almost endless: IT can influence and improve the customer’s purchasing and support experience, encourage and ease feedback, streamline billing and other financial transactions, and more.
To accomplish this, CIOs can concentrate direct spending on externally focused, customer-facing technology tools such as service-oriented architectures, virtualization, and flexible architectures. Developing and integrating customer sales and service technologies for example, can help identify, engage, and expand the customer base.
Continued investment in security tools can enable the IT organization to safeguard brand value as well as customer trust. Projects that improve the reuse of data can allow IT to serve and retain existing customers and find new ones.
In today’s digital world, CIOs can have a powerful impact on strengthening their company’s competitive edge. By changing how and where IT contributes and by building new working relationships internally that improve externally-facing, customer-focused processes and services, CIOs can be instrumental in ensuring their company’s success in an environment of customer choice.
David Thompson is CIO of Symantec Corp. Prior to joining Symantec, Thompson was senior vice president and chief information officer for Oracle and oversaw the Global Information Technology group.