Businesses that thrive and grow in the age of the customer are obsessed with customer delight: the most successful companies are reinventing themselves to systematically understand and serve increasingly powerful customers. This business reality creates new imperatives for everyone inside an organization, and infrastructure & operations (I&O) professionals are not immune. So the question becomes, how does I&O participate in the transformation of the enterprise toward customer obsession?

The answer to this question is important, because technology's role in business is rapidly changing — from a world in which Information Technology (IT) enabled a company to function more efficiently, to a world of Business Technology (BT), which we define as technology, systems, and processes to win, serve, and retain customers. Yet customer-facing technologies aren't always (or even often) the traditional role of I&O. So how can I&O participate?

How about starting with a simple dictum? Spend more time on technologies that will inspire and delight customers, either directly or indirectly. To start this journey, I'd like you to watch this short video of how a digital billboard has gone viral:

This display, in London's Piccadilly Circus, leverages surveillance technology along with smart billboard technlogy to interact with the planes flying overhead. As you can imagine, the billboard stops people in their tracks, serving as a powerful customer-facing tool for British Airways. Assembling an initiative like this one requires a marketer's mind — and an I&O professional's command of technology.

We're seeing other examples of how I&O can extend its purview into customer-relevant technologies. For example:

  • Tablets revolutionize sales. My recent blog post and report show how sales reps delight customers and prospects when they enter meetings equipped with tablets.
  • Retail brings digital into the store. Retailers and other enterprises with customer-facing spaces can break down the walls between the online and physical worlds, designing retail experiences that "recognize" customers as they walk into the store. 
  • Wearable technology in healthcare empowers better patient experiences. Not all customer-facing examples need to be flashy. Nurses spend a great deal of time looking for patients' veins when setting up an IV or drawing blood. When they miss… ouch! It detracts from the patient's experience. So Epson and Evena Medical designed a smart glasses application that allows nurses to see through a patient's skin to see where veins actually lie.

In each instance, I&O professionals are providing devices, applications, and the network infrastructure to power them — all in service of customer delight. Whether it's digital signage, tablets, in-store technology, or wearables, I&O can be — and must be — a critical partner to the business in designing incredible customer experiences.

We're constantly on the lookout for great examples of how I&O designs, empowers, and manages customer-facing Business Technology. Is your company a leader in this area? If so, let me know.

J. P. Gownder is a vice president and principal analyst at Forrester Research serving Infrastructure & Operations Professionals. Follow him on Twitter at @jgownder.