The Role of Your IT Department in a Customer-Centric Business Strategy

Tuesday, June 12, 2018

The Role of Your IT Department in a Customer-Centric Business Strategy

For years, many IT departments focused on satisfying the needs of internal users, such as the employees of the company. They supported their operations and their primary focus was enabling business processes by maintaining infrastructure and software used by the company. These captive users had no choice but to use whatever technology they were given. Most user interfaces for in-house applications were not designed to be very intuitive and didn’t provide a quality user experience. But with the adoption of the web to communicate with their external customers and provide services and products, these customers have higher expectations of satisfaction. It has become a technology that now drives real business values, and the company’s customers have now become the IT department’s customers, and unlike internal users, if these external users are unhappy with the technology they will find another company to serve their needs.

The customer-centric business model uses a specialized approach where customers play a significant role in the design process. It has been discovered that most users really don’t care about the type of technology that is used, but that it delivers the results they are looking for. Therefore, IT departments and developers have to spend more time focusing on the usability of their technology in order to provide a successful consumer experience. The head of IT for Oakland County, Michigan, Phil Berolini stresses, “the IT department itself must first become customer-centric”. In other words, it is important that the department spend the time to learn how customers are using technology to do business with the company, and then deliver comparable solutions.

The GE Global Innovation Barometer indicated from a study conducted among top executives that one of the three factors that support efficient and successful innovation is the ability to quickly adopt emerging technologies. Consumers are turning their attention from buying products to looking for a great buying experience. IT needs to contribute to the part of that experience which empowers the consumer by digitizing core business processes. For example, the U.S. based pharmacy chain Walgreens has adopted this customer-centric business model through its technology initiatives by making available an online ordering system that allows customers to log into their system either on the web or through their mobile app and re-order their prescriptions. There is even an “Ask a Pharmacist” feature that allows customers to ask a Walgreens pharmacist questions. It is these types of IT initiatives that not only support a customer-centric model but builds loyalty.

With this change of focus in IT from simply providing services to internal users tot extending solutions to external users, it is the Chief Information Officer (CIO) that must not only help their department to focus on completing transactions online, but deliver advanced technology that support effective interactions between the company and its customers. IT leaders are looking for innovative technology solutions to deliver services to their customers. We see this not only in the private sector but in the public sectors. Years ago, government technology projects weren’t successful because they did not focus on the needs of the end user. This could be seen in the structure of their websites that were more department-driven than task-driven. This structural model required customers to have knowledge of the internal structures of the organization in order to navigate through to find what they were looking for on the website. However, customers of government organizations are now expecting the same service standards and satisfaction as in the private sector. Today we are seeing the success of e-government systems that include digital tools that support a new era of customer-centric (or citizen-centric) governance.

IT leaders like Phil Bertolini have implemented technology solutions that provided their citizens with a self-service system that enabled them to download applications online that were at one time only distributed in person. The healthcare industry now makes patient records available through secure patient portals creating more customer-driven solutions. Although the adoption of e-government systems by their citizens is a challenge due to the lack of uniformity and varying citizen skills, with the proper leadership to analyze the user’s work practices these public sector organizations can provide more customer-centric services through technology. CIOs must lead their companies to meet the level of today’s technology-savvy consumer.

Not many years ago, the IT department served only internal customers who had no choice in the type of technology that was provided or usability of the applications that supported their business processes. More recently we have seen a transition in the demands of the IT department to now provide technology services to external users. These external customers require technology that delivers results and a degree of easiness in their interaction. As IT managers and leaders, it is our responsibility to help our teams adjust to a new business model that supports and empowers consumers and their elevated expectations.