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How to be a Disruptive Leader

Posted on May 8, 2014

Your customers are holding all the cards, get used to it, says Rodney Byfield.

For many years now, IT leaders have been successfully walking a tightrope — balancing their organisation’s expectations on one hand and the IT service capability on the other.

Keeping the lights on and finding new ways to increase efficiency was the priority. In the past, CIOs and IT directors wanted to control everything to do with technology, and for the most part this outlook worked.
This meant our business, IT, was primarily focused on systems alone. But times have changed. The IT group now needs to enhance the capabilities of people using technology infrastructure. It needs to have a strategic understanding of the business and brand.

IBM recently spoke to 4,183 c-level executives to examine trends that are affecting how they prepare for the future. The study concluded that the c-suite executives must do three things: open up to customer influence, pioneer digital-physical innovation, and craft engaging customer experiences.

So what does this mean for the CIO and his or her IT group? Well, your focus is no longer about how you deliver an endpoint in your network; it’s about knowing how customers want to engage with your business.
I remember some years ago making light of ‘brand concepts’ to a friend in that industry. I’m now eating my words.

You see, this is the crossroads of marketing and IT and as horrifying as it may sound to some people, both divisions need to work together to deliver technology to the business.

The IT group already has the cross-departmental influence while marketing can add the customer service perspective and sales acumen to drive the strategy.

By focusing IT strategies on better communications and customer service, CIOs can significantly improve customer value of IT.

Today’s customer is driving the change we are seeing in IT. Our departments are no longer providing a ‘get what you’re given’ service.

Internal and external customers are expecting creative, flexible products that continue to work regardless of location or stratagem.

Herein lies the disruption. You can no longer control all the elements but the customer should be your priority. The issue here is the lack of knowledge about communications, customer service, and marketing within IT.
Basically, if you lead IT within your organisation, you need to become brand conscious. Lead the charge within the executive suite to create a organisational strategy — driven by IT — and a roadmap that ties into the brand management.

This plan should include working alongside the marketing department using social, mobile, and smart statistics (business analytics) to improve business capabilities within marketing, sales, and customer service.

In April, Forbes highlighted a customer service quote made by Bezos, the founder of Amazon, who said: “We see our customers as invited guests to a party, and we are the hosts. It’s our job every day to make every important aspect of the customer experience a little better.”
This is the mindset that the CIO of tomorrow requires. Notwithstanding, consumer technology is moving fast and will soon infuse all aspects of life at work and home.

Significant advances in health tech, mobility, and smart wearables means that it is going to be a real challenge to keep up.

In a customer-centric scenario, many new IT functions will be outsourced or purchased as services. Traditional IT departments are not flexible enough to cater for quick innovative change, which gives the cloud genuine purpose at enterprise level.

Even when control is a priority — and especially in the case of security or policy management — restrictions will have to be balanced against mobilisation, personalisation, and functionality for the customer.

With this in mind, it will be much easier to conduct and lead the direction of technological advance rather than simply trying to control it. The CIO needs to become an expert in delivering customer-centric innovation and aggregation.

If you don’t take the lead the business may well bypass IT and procure technology-enabled services without your input. Technology will soon be everywhere, connecting everything you have.
Consider the following:

  • Your company car connects your home wireless to upgrade its software for more efficient driving. It also updates the GPS information for tomorrow’s appointments.
  • Your work calendar synchronises your recent alarm or appointment with your wearable technology, car, TV and your alarm clock at home. They all understand your location to use the correct alarm.
  • You use your home TV to read through documents on your work email and reply via voice technology.

These are real examples of the workspace of the future. It’s already happening now. Soon IT will be everywhere and the delivery of service or, for that matter, end points can be as diverse as your imagination. We are talking bring-your-own-device on steroids.

It makes sense to conclude that if the definition of workspace is changing, then the expectation will change with it.

So what can you do?

  • Engage with marketing and get a clear understanding of what delivering customer service is from their perspective.
  • Create a strategy with marketing that will improve your ability to offer better customer service.
  • Start a discussion about using the IT and marketing budget together to enhance customer experience.
  • Lead your team into the customer service space; ensure that IT is ready and willing to support the changes.
  • Look for projects you can “socialise”. Get the customer involved early in the process with pilot activities. Learn about brand advocacy.
  • Use the in-house knowledge you have to collaborate with marketing and customer service; you have the insider advantage.

If you are not prepared, the exponential growth in emerging technologies will catch you off-guard. If you’re caught out you, may need to dust off your CV and prepare for a change.

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