This is the CIO, at your service
All systems lead to customer satisfaction... CIOs urged to think of customer first. Photo: Stephen Swintek
Keeping customers smiling used to be the domain of the marketing department but in today's online, social media-centric world, do technologists need to have customer satisfaction as their primary goal?
Eric Berridge, the founder of Bluewolf, a US cloud computing consultancy that's expanding into Australia, says yes. The alternative is to risk being left behind in a world where success is no longer measured by how well the backroom systems run.
Bluewolf employs 500 staff globally and provides services to local customers including Vodafone, Veolia Environmental Services and Panasonic.
In Australia last week to spruik the firm's "customer engagement" credentials, following its takeover in September of local consultancy Velteo, Berridge said the role of chief information officers had moved beyond managing infrastructure and enterprise systems.
New-generation CIOs needed to focus on enhancing the flow of data around their organisations, in order to improve the end customer's experience with the company or the brand, Berridge said.
It's a major mindset change for IT chiefs who came of age in an era where their performance was judged by the cost savings delivered by a new finance system or how rarely the email server went down.
Rather than focusing on deploying technology with the goal of reducing transactional costs, CIOs needed to take a customer-centric view of their role.
Morphing into a CIO-marketer demands a more complex skills set than was needed to snag the top tech job in the past, according to Linda Price, a vice president of service delivery at Gartner.
CIOs needed to become "bi-lingual", Price said, "a technologist in the background and a marketing-oriented business entrepreneur at the executive table".
According to Berridge this includes designing systems that ensure customers have a consistent and satisfying experience at every point of contact with the company; whether by phone, email, social media or over the counter.
As solutions are increasingly deployed in the cloud, marrying infrastructure and software has become less important and boosting company revenue by making sure customers are happy enough to keep on buying far more so, he said.
"CIOs need to pull technology into a direction that enhances that," Berridge said.
"They've mastered transactional systems – but we've moved beyond that."
While the IT and finance departments have traditionally enjoyed close ties, courtesy of IT's ability to reduce costs and improve efficiencies, CIOs now need to find a perch in the marketing department as well.
"[The lines between] CIO and marketing are blurring," Berridge said.
"Marketing people are confident with technology. The next-generation chief marketing officer uses digital media."
Price said "old-school CIOs" who thought the implementation of the ERP system was the last of the IT revolutions is fast becoming the dinosaur of the IT world.
"It is no longer acceptable to labour security aspects of new implementations that interface to the outside world or bleat about the cost and complexity of supporting multiple devices. The business will not tolerate such outdated positions while their market share diminishes."
Many companies have already acknowledged this trend and are modifying the CIO role, in some cases renaming them chief technology officers. Some CTOs have spokesperson responsibilities, a role previously entrusted to the public relations or marketing department.
Those who failed to embrace the 'new world order' would be relegated to systems upgrades and network maintenance, as the marketing department sucked off more funds that would once have been earmarked ICT, Price warned.
"We are already seeing the diffusing of the IT budget. The successful CIO will understand the driver for this change and move to better understand the strategies of the marketing department and how IT can support these."
Old-school dinosaur or CIO-slash-marketeer? Tell us how the CIO role is evolving with changing times...