Customer-centric IT often brings up the question of whether or not IT is (or should be) serving real customers — you know, the ones from outside your enterprise, who pay in cold hard cash?
There are many good reasons to start to figure out how to provide needed services to your enterprise’s customer base. But it’s a road fraught with peril, as well.
Do you remember how you feel in IT, when one of your vendors goes out to the business and sells their solution around you?
That’s how many in the business — your “official” clients — will feel about you, if they think you’re working around them.
I’m fully in favour of IT professionals improving the company’s web presence — building apps that help the customer base work with the company — a host of things that face the outside world. Not only is it good for the firm when you bring specific IT capabilities to bear like this, it’s good for the IT group, too, which gets a very different kind of learning experience working with the outside world than with the inside one.
But there needs to be policy in place that both your business clients and you work within, or it’s a sure bet that whatever you do, you will be blamed for. Especially if you succeed.
This is yet another one of those places where a Governance Board — a permanent business + CIO executive body guiding the enterprise’s returns on IT and IT work — is the right answer. When an account executive’s, call centre supervisor’s, or marketing manager’s knickers get twisted because “you stepped on my turf”, it’s a very different outcome when their leadership is on side with what you’re doing ahead of time versus when your CIO has to try and defend your actions after the fact.
Most organizations haven’t gone down the Governance Board route — yet. They’re still struggling along, expecting the CIO to carry the load alone. That may make for heroic imagery, but it constrains opportunity, increases costs, increases disagreements and makes for a less than optimal life for all involved.
Governance Boards not only are overwhelmingly of the client base, they’re charged with optimizing return on investment as opposed to protecting managers’ egos. They deal in principle, policy and strategy: if it is an enterprise decision that customers should be treated better, both the business and IT are going to be set to doing exactly that.
Now you’re not the enemy — you’re an approved (and approved-of) resource. You’re part of your client’s team, now both helping the customer.
Customer-centric behaviour for IT should begin in house, dealing with clients. It’s a way to get the governance questions out on the table so that the CIO can champion getting the structures she/he needs to succeed, like the Board. Then taking the initiative with external customers (and suppliers) becomes an enterprise priority, and you’re helped to succeed at it.
There’s enough prior alienation out there for years to come. Don’t foolishly add to the pile.
Build from the foundations, upward.