In today's business world the customer is king, but here's the rub for IS: The customer is everywhere. He, she or they can be external (business-to-business or consumer), internal (departmental business users or via help desks) or even virtual (online). So CIOs are fighting the good fight -- trying to deliver customer service and customer information -- on multiple fronts.
On the external front, organisations are trying to understand the needs, preferences and behaviours of customers. Knowing what the customer wants, how long it will take to deliver the product and what kinds of support the customer will need can go a long way not only in closing a sale but in forging a lasting preferred-supplier bond.
To this end, upper management want data warehouses for profiling; customer service reps online in real time for e-mail, chats and bulletin boards; and online analytical processing drill-downs of it all. This month in CIO we look at how, in some companies, IS and marketing are aligning and adopting a range of strategies and technologies in order to get a bead on their customers ("Improving the Odds", page 38).
It's your job as CIO to be on the lookout for new ways to analyse your customers, your markets and your competition. Your enterprise must always be alert and ready to take advantage of the next opportunity, wherever it may come from. As customer requirements become increasingly complex, CIOs will have to be smarter in how they deliver their organisation's information.
While marketing and IS may be working together toward a common goal in some companies, the two groups haven't traditionally been the best of friends. In truth, IS hasn't always been seen as a friend of the business by the bulk of management.
As a result of this perception, we've seen chief executives and CFOs radically restructuring the IS function and its governance. Outsourcing, decentralisation and the replacement of internal programmers with contract systems integrators have all been popular tactics in the quest to improve IS, the hope being that someone else knows how to build, deliver and maintain systems better and more economically than the internal IS group does If IS departments are to survive, they must not only add value for their customers but also make sure those customers recognise the added value. Most systems groups focus on the first requirement, but the second is even more important.
In this month's cover story, "Taking Care of Business", Southcorp's CIO Wayne Saunders tells how he is looking to transform the company's IT organisation into a business-driven, business-smart, service-based entity.
The reality is that IS customers don't buy IS; they buy the expectations of the benefits promised by IS. The challenge for CIOs -- as evidenced by Saunders -- is to change the culture of the systems department so that it sells not the technology or its systems skills in general but its role in harnessing the technology to business needs.
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