The Counterintuitive CEO

Tech Management In The Age Of The Customer

October 10, 2013

We are now in the age of the customer, with buyers using technology to gain control over institutions. That power flows from customers’ newfound ability to seamlessly price, critique, and direct their purchases.
 
What does this mean? At the risk of being overly dramatic, the future belongs to customer-obsessed enterprises.
 
All of this holds many implications for your company — especially around marketing — and in future posts I will explore those dynamics. But one question intrigues me at the moment: What will the age of the customer mean for the techies in your company?
 
We believe that tech management must embrace two agendas: IT and BT. The CIO and team must continue to manage and improve IT (infrastructure) — the supply chains, financial systems, HR systems, and production systems that operate the corporation. But the team must also take on the business technology (BT) agenda — building technologies, systems, and process to win, retain, and serve customers. As an example, systems of operation that contain critical customer data must be transformed to become agile systems of engagement, capable of serving mobile customers with the right content, in the appropriate context, with the highest possible convenience. The CIO and team are best qualified to manage these complex, highly technical transitions.
 
Building BT will not be easy. Forrester estimates that 30% to 40% of technology executives do not have the appropriate skills for this work. And some may not have the stomach to engage in the messy and often taxing collaboration with marketing and business executives that BT implies. To make the grade, CIOs must be able to manage two very different mindsets: containing IT costs while using BT to win and delight customers. Yes, it’s a harder job than just managing IT — but yielding BT to a rump organization (the Chief Digital Officer, anyone?) will create confusion, chaos, and ultimately an inferior customer experience.
 
In the future, all companies will be software companies. The business of tires, insurance, or banking services will all have a customer software component. Tech management leaders must step up to this, and a wide array of approaching BT challenges. Then, and only then, will their companies have a shot at prospering in the age of the customer.
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