IT as customer-centric? Alas, there’s still far too many business people who’d laugh themselves silly at the thought.
We’ve known for well over two decades that IT needs to be a client or customer-centred organization. Still, there’s a lot of people in IT who still fondly live up to Dilbert’s “day of getting a new computer”, humming “People, people who don’t need people…” while he sets it up.
In the intervening twenty years, Dilbert’s been in sales, in marketing, out with people who buy his corporation’s products and services: he’s not just a back-room engineer any longer.
And neither are you. But there are pitfalls on the way to negotiate.
IT’s great advantage as as organization is that it slices horizontally across the enterprise, touching every part of it. Not only is every other part of the organization a client to be served, there’s often an advantage to be had by linking across those different domains.
IT’s great weakness, in turn, is often that it is seen as remote and unresponsive, popping in occasionally and promising much, but failing to deliver in a timely manner.
That’s not my view, by the way: it was the view of over five thousand interactions with business leaders in a study of IT effectiveness done over a seven year period. They were asked to rate their IT counterparts on two axes: how dependent they felt their part of the business was on current and future information technologies, and how credible they thought their IT organization was at envisioning and delivering the future.
High dependence but low credibility was a very common outcome. Unfortunately, that translates into “get a consulting firm” or “get an outsourcing partner”, not “call IT”.
So long before IT has pipe-dreams of being out in the field influencing end customers, it looks like an on-going program of credibility improvement on the customer-centric axis is still in order.
True … but we’ve lost a few more years. More products and services from enterprises are in the hands of end customers. From apps delivered to customer devices, to web presences, to kiosks, to technology embedded and interacting in the field, more of the technology base that used to be internal only is bridging the gap and going external.
Marketing, sales, the customer care centre, field operations and the like will still be the primary face of the enterprise to that outside world — but it’s a world IT had better understand well to be able to serve well when their internal clients bang on the door and say “everything! yesterday!” — as they will.
Unfortunately, not everyone in IT (or in any department; IT’s just feeling it more heavily than others) is good at client interactions. IT in particular attracts a high percentage of introverts and intuitional thinkers, neither of whom necessarily do well in “getting out there”.
Customer-centricity should, therefore, be a manager’s challenge: how do I work with each person’s strengths to make the department as a whole customer-centric, welcomed, credible. More on that tomorrow.