The Changing Role of the Customer: The Changing Role of the CIO

The changing demands of today’s customer are having a big impact across enterprises and the CIO is at the center of this storm.  We found strong evidence of this in recent discussions with over 20 North American Chief Information Officers (CIOs) in preparation for a client’s CIO conference.  The CIOs we interviewed shared their perspectives on the major issues facing technology leaders: the impact of the empowered customer, business model transformation enabled by cloud, and the ever-increasing importance of security.  In this blog post, I will dig into the perspectives on the shifting role of the customer and what it means to the role of the CIO.

Overall the CIOs we interviewed agreed that while their role was changing, they did not feel that it was shifting any differently from any other c-level executive.  They pointed out that the idea of the “changing role of the CIO” is not a new one.  For quite some time now, CIOs have viewed themselves as business leaders and the thought of the CIO as someone who keeps the email and phone systems up and running is a relic of the past.  The commercial or front office side of the business is experiencing increasing demands to understand the customer more fully and engage that customer more comprehensively, requiring the CIO and technology to help create this deeper connection.  CIOs also noted an increased requirement for CIOs to be working on things that are more directly tied to revenue generation.

The place of real change – according to most CIOs we spoke with – is in fact with their companies’ customers, whose role is changing dramatically, powered by technology.  And perhaps most interesting – the CIO is at the epicenter of that customer revolution.  The following are the top three issues mandating that CIOs continue to focus and connect more directly to the customer.

Customers are demanding new, innovative, simpler experiences

With the consumerization of technology as a backdrop, customers are looking for the same sorts of experiences in business that they are having in their personal lives, where their interactions and experiences are personalized, simpler, and full of new thinking.  As one CIO observed,

“The notion of shrinking margins, price compression, the need for scale and efficiency – CIOs can do that… But now our customers are judging us by a completely different set of experiences that come from their consumer-driven technology experiences (Google, Apple, Amazon) … that is a challenge we were not ready for.”

Customer-centric design and experience is underpinned by technology

Some of the CIOs we spoke with discussed that the role of the CIO has expanded to be more horizontal to include ideation through the full lifecycle of products and services.  Technology is being built in and not just an afterthought.  This requires CIOs to understand end customers’ perspectives in ways they never had to before.  Said one CIO,

“We need to connect more to the front office functions, but also to where revenue growth opportunities are taking place.  This shift to focus on marketing, sales, product development and things that customers use requires a different IT organization than in the past.”

Another commented: “IT infrastructure and technology are becoming more engrained in product development and are now part of saleable offerings rather than just the underpinnings enabling the business.”

New customer requirements demand a reconsideration of organizational models

CIOs noted a change in organizational culture and talent is needed to make the jump to a customer-focused organization and shared that even the best companies are struggling with what customers are doing with mobility and access to information everywhere.  Because of increased mobility, customers are interacting with and affecting many parts of the business, including those that customers never had access to previously.

“The new customer experience is the most important shift taking place.  Interestingly, technology has driven the empowered customer but culture change is what is needed for our companies to succeed.”

As CIOs continue to identify ways for technology to help their companies engage more directly and at a more meaningful level with the customer, they are also looking for ways that the CIO and IT can connect to those customers to understand their needs.  There are many strategies that CIOs could lead to help enable a better customer experience.  We’ve found that Customer Advisory Councils can be very effective in creating deeper relationships with customers, especially in B2B businesses where it can be a struggle to engage with customers.  What vehicles have you found valuable in connecting to your customers?

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