The post-recession quest for growth and innovation makes a refreshing change for many CIOs after the relentless pursuit of cost-cutting. It also means that we are living through exciting times, with a massive palette of new technologies available and increasing demands from our CEOs and other peers for IT solutions that will drive the business forward.
In my last article I outlined five things to help CIOs cope with constant change in the emerging post-recession world.
Now let's look at five of the many new technologies that are making headlines and, at least for some, profits too. They all have one thing in common: they enable IT to play a more active part at the sharp end of the business.
They can help companies thrive in a fast-moving world by supporting innovation and new ventures. And they can provide the kind of powerful support to front-office, customer-facing activities that has transformed the efficiency of back-office functions over the last decade.
1. Social Customer Relationship Management, sCRM
The massive expansion of social media sites is a phenomenon that not all companies have embraced. It allows your customers to share opinions on you and make buying decisions without consulting you directly.
You and your IT Team are now in a position where sCRM means using new web-based technology to manage your customer interactions — your reputation — in a cohesive and controlled way.
This is a fast-growing discipline, not a passing fad, whose claims to effectiveness are now backed by real-life examples from companies such as General Motors, Johnson & Johnson and Harley Davidson.
Indeed many see sCRM as the key to front-office transformation, equivalent to the ERP solutions that have transformed the back office. If you don't have an sCRM programme, you should be mindful that your competitors do.
It is easy to see the attraction of buying IT services via the web as and when you need them on a pay-as-you-go basis: they are available immediately, require no big investment in time or money, and can be flexed up or down as your needs change.
The range of services is growing from software-as-a-service (Salesforce.com) to platform-as-a-service (Google Apps) to infrastructure-as-a-service (Amazon EC2) among others. For CIOs the motivation for using them has historically been to provide quick solutions at low cost.
However, the emergence of the sCRM model for the front office provides an even more fundamental reason for taking the as-a-service route. With sCRM constantly changing the last thing you need is a monolithic ERP-type solution that is fine for today but will be obsolete in six months.
For many CIOs and CEOs, the only realistic sCRM solution with the required flexibility is the as-a-service model.
3. Mobile Technology
This year has again seen sales of smartphones, pads and tablets beat forecasts and records, but what does this mean for business? It means that a significant part of your user base will be familiar with the applications, facilities and freedom that their mobile devices provide — and will compare them with what the company's IT delivers.
It also means more to your front-office users, who are more likely to be mobile, than your accountants or HR staff in the back office. Front-office people are also, by definition, outward-facing and therefore looking at all the data and insights that their mobile technology can give them on markets, customers and trends.
They don't buy iPads to access your ERP system but for data from multiple external sources. But they need support, and wise CIOs will take the time to talk to these users, appreciate their needs, and work to provide professional guidance. After all if you don't guide and support them there are third parties out there who will.
4. Cloud Services
The last twenty years have seen the Internet , giving connectivity, Web 1.0 providing content and Web 2.0 supporting interactions.
Cloud Services are the latest stage of this progression adding the much-needed ability to deliver processes — universally accessible services delivered in a standardised manner from servers in a cloud data centre with a per-use payment model and an operating model based on simplicity in build and flexibility in changing the orchestration of any process.
It is easy to see the benefits of this approach in businesses that are being transformed by the sCRM model, which is all about serving customers and marketplaces better, matching customer demands and responding to events in optimised ways. Cloud services can be key for a CIO to deliver an effective front-office process model to manage the entire customer cycle from initial interest to placing an order.
5. Business Information Management
BIM is a systematic way to capitalise on your information assets and use data for competitive advantage. It clarifies and quantifies for your CXO colleagues what you as CIO doubtless fully appreciate already: that information is one of your most valuable business assets.
Properly implemented, BIM can handle real-time data and external events as they occur, not just legacy data, putting the focus on the future and supporting the sCRM front-office business model. BIM provides an objective assessment of your ability as a business to derive maximum advantage from the data you hold.
The CIOs that I meet are increasingly business-focused and are playing their part in customer challenges – acquisition, retention, relationships and service. With so many new and powerful technologies moving from fringe to mainstream I hope these useful things will assist you in rising to the post-recession challenge of shifting goalposts.
Christine Hodgson is Chairman of Capgemini UK