19/12/2013 06:48 GMT | Updated 17/02/2014 05:59 GMT

CIOs Have Customers Too...

A survey carried out by Bull earlier this year produced some real insight into the role of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). The results showed that CIOs feel frustrated by a lack of freedom and influence. This set us thinking about what they must do to adapt to shifting business patterns and to make their voices heard more clearly in the boardroom.

To help, we looked at the five key areas that seem certain to drive business success over the next few years and then considered how CIOs could use these to reboot and future-proof their roles. In my last post I looked at the need for technical staff to be retrained to become more business aware. This time I'd like to turn things around and discuss the need to be more responsive to customers.

CIOs and their departments don't often think of themselves as customer-facing. Yet they do have internal customers. Just because they also happen to be colleagues shouldn't make a difference. Unless an IT team delivers what the rest of the business needs, they will lose support and budgets will be eroded.

A key demand of our changing business landscape is the need to turn customers into fans. The end goal used to be a sale, but that's no longer enough. We now need customers not just to buy, but also to evangelise about our products and services to their families, their friends and to the wider market online.

One of the reasons why this is so relevant to the IT industry at the moment is the cloud. Because the cloud is delivered on-demand it is so much easier for customers to change from one application to another. But internally, it is also down to a burgeoning of choice. IT departments will have already experienced this first hand with the whole BYOD scenario. If an internal 'client' doesn't like what the company is offering by way of technology, they will find an alternative that does work for them.

So how can CIOs devise a strategy to help encourage praise rather than moans? At the moment, most IT departments have a reactive mind set. Their role is to 'keep the lights on' by maintaining legacy systems.

Whenever an employee rings a service desk they are doing so because an incident has already occurred. It's essential to push service to the point of need as, by the time someone has picked up the phone, it's too late to retrieve the situation. Even if the service offered is great, now it's a case of fire-fighting - and however quickly and skilfully the matter is resolved it is unlikely to turn the caller into a fan.

If routine problems can be fixed using online self-service, this frees up the team to take a more proactive role in developing new services and applications. Internet banking is a good example of what I mean here. In general, I have no need to call the bank or speak to anyone as I can do all my day-to-day banking securely online.

It's true that people like to talk to another human being. But what frustrates them is not being able to carry out common tasks efficiently - and, if there is an issue, not being able to resolve it quickly so that they can get on with their work.

Of course, ideally, nothing should go wrong in the first place, so the more proactive the service the better. This should include automated alerts and pre-failure warnings so that help teams can log-in and address the issue before a malfunction occurs. Ultimately, it may involve analysing trends to pre-empt problem areas. For example, the finance department may need to prioritise a specific application at their month-end close. If this is known beforehand, the issue can be removed before it creates a crisis.

This can eliminate many everyday frustrations for employees - but there are business benefits too. Suppose there's one particular fault that affects every agent within a call centre when certain tasks are carried out? Because of the way log-in scripts are configured, it takes around 20 minutes for the support team to log-in to each machine and remedy the issue. If the problem can be anticipated and quickly remedied before the system goes down, agents could take, say, two extra calls when otherwise they would be waiting for the system to be fixed. Taken across an entire operation and over a period of time, this represents a significant lift in productivity.

It is this kind of proactive service management that will help the CIO to reserve a place for themselves in the boardroom now and for years to come.