Changing customer demands rely on a flexible technology estate that empowers all members of the organisation.
With or without a global pandemic, the relationship an organisation has with its customers has changed dramatically in the last decade. That change is as a result of technology. As customers consume more services via digital means, that becomes their expectation for every company they interact with and for every transaction on which they rely. The internal teams tasked with meeting these ever-expanding customer expectations require new ways of working and must rely on new platforms that enable the organization to digitally transform itself.
The CIO, therefore, has to be delivering customer-facing services that enable personalisation, as well as business operational technologies and processes. Customer-facing and internal operations must collect data that delivers insight, and the enterprise platform has to be agile and able to change according to market demands.
“Customers want to consume services digitally and no longer want to wait, make a call or even send an email,” says Norma Dove-Edwin, Chief Data and Information Officer at Places for People Group, a provider of leisure and housing services. No matter the sector or the products and services an organisation offers, the customer expects a 24 hours a day, seven days a week set of digital services to be on offer for everything from a boiler repair to the scores in their favourite sport. As a result, the CIO is at the forefront of customer service.
“In 2012 the main system received 1200 hits a year, last year we were receiving eight to nine million hits a week, and they were coming from mobile devices,” says Damiam Smith, formerly Head of IT for the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) and now CTO with Podium Analytics.
“That led to a seachange in how the organisation saw itself,” Smith adds, going on to describe how a sports governing body realised its business model was not dissimilar to that of social media giant Facebook. For years the cricketing body had seen its main role as creating the rules for its sport and running games across the country. But in a digital economy, the players and the fans are the most important product, and not the rules by which they play (these remain critical though).
As organisations move a significant amount of their customer service to digital methods, Dove-Edwin says it is vital to develop a culture of “co-design and collaboration,” in the organisation to ensure that technologists, and those delivering front-line services, work together to create digital solutions which will benefit both the customer and the employees. She adds that one of the biggest lessons of the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic was the realisation of how important it is to deliver great technology services to your workforce, because if they can do their roles well, then they can help the organisation navigate disruptions like a pandemic and deliver a great customer service no matter the challenges to normal operations.
It is with the same clarity that Dove-Edwin says that digital transformation should be divided into two, to ensure the employee and customer get what they need. “Transformation is how you operate the business and serve the customer. Digital is the technology that enables that and can inspire new ways of working.”
Smith adds: “It is crucial to think about who the customer is and how do you make the internal customer’s lives better,” adding that this has a positive “knock-on effect” for the external customer.
Both business technology leaders observed that technologies such as OutSystems enable organisations to rapidly deploy new customer-facing and internal-facing technologies to digitise processes. “With OutSystems we can expose capabilities to the staff, and at Podium Analytics it means we are able to get people interested in our work who may have the answers that we do not have,” Smith says of the sports injury data-led business he now leads technology for. Dove-Edwin agrees: “The key driver for technologies like these is that we could never serve the whole community with everything they need,” she says of how these technologies enable the IT team to focus on bigger projects.
The OutSystems platform delivers the speed and flexibility for those teams and departments that need to build software solutions quickly and respond to any business challenge.
Data is at the heart of why CIOs and CTOs are increasingly involved in customer service oriented enterprise projects, the two technology leaders say, but not just for their technology insight.
“You will get a better response if people trust you and they know why you are using the data,” Smith says. “We talk a lot about value exchange, people need to get something out of it, and if they trust you, then the information they give you will be better, and then the service you offer will be better.”
Both leaders see data is not only essential to understanding the customer, but also improving the customer service through enhancing the performance of the organisation. Continuous improvement is a method used by both professional athletes and technologists. This approach can be used in a myriad of ways to digitise the business and improve customer service.
The challenge with data and digital customer services is ensuring the organisation is ready. Both CIOs have experienced businesses whose culture struggled with technology advancement.
“With all these digital products and services you get a raft of data, but you may find you have an organisation that is not used to this and doesn’t know how to sell new products and services,” Smith says. Both agree that the role of a CIO today is to not only deliver the new technologies, but to help the organisation understand how new types of customer may exist for the new services that digital delivers.