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Firms that fail to adapt to increasingly powerful customers and disruptive companies will not simply face near-term disruption - they risk their long-term viability. To cope, CIOs must help their firm shift to an outside-in perspective focused on the customer.

As the central technology leader, the CIO must take responsibility for opening the executive team up to the opportunities, and possibilities, for technology to shape strategy and create customer value. To achieve this, CIOs must adopt a business capability focus, mapping capabilities to the overall customer life cycle and working with the CMO and business unit (BU) leaders to prioritise business technology (BT) investments that drive customer loyalty by addressing customer journey needs and creating value for the customer.

This will provide the foundation for your firm's new, shared BT agenda - the leadership to-do list to apply technology, systems, and processes to win, serve, and retain customers.

To meet this challenge, CIOs should map customer journeys to strategic business capabilities. CIOs must bring their technology perspective to the executive team to help shape strategies that create new sources of value for customers. Using the connection between strategic business capabilities and customer journeys, CIOs must connect the dots between the CMO's need to improve customer loyalty and the ability to use technology to satisfy customer desires.

In addition, CIOs need to advocate for strategies that build new sources of value through digital capabilities. Rather than simply bolting a digital façade onto the existing businesses, CIOs must collaborate with the CMO and BU leaders to use technology to accelerate to a digital business future, with digital touchpoints an increasingly critical part of the customer's ecosystem of value.

Finally, CIOs should develop strategies to work around the existing technology debt. Few CIOs have the luxury of greenfield operations. As the CEO and the executive team consider strategy options, they must take into account their existing technology portfolio. By architecting technology as part of a strategy to improve customer loyalty and transform customer experience, CIOs can begin to reduce technology debt, isolating BT from legacy IT.

To become a voice for change, CIOs must step up as business leaders

As a business leader with technology expertise CIOs are a key asset to today's CEO. Few business strategies can now succeed without technology. Innovations in technology happen at a pace that makes it impossible for the executive team to see what might be possible just a few years, or even a few months, ahead. As a CIO, you must educate your peers, lead the charge on innovation, and prepare the company to make the strategic changes it needs to continue to deliver value to customers and drive customer loyalty long into the future. Here are four tips to help on this journey:

1. Establish common metrics with the CMO.
Your CMO wants to drive greater customer engagement and loyalty. But they also know they need technology to do this. While marketing represents only a fraction of the demands placed on your team, the CMO represents the most important person for your business - your customer. It's vital that you both gain mutual respect for what your respective teams can bring to the table. You both have a common goal: improving revenue through customer loyalty. Revise your success metrics to be in common and based on channel-agnostic customer metrics, like Customer Experience Index scores. Then work together to form joint teams to implement your strategy choices.

2. Seek out strategic vendors that can accelerate your BT agenda.
Given how much the company depends upon keeping up-to-date with emerging technologies, it's important that you have the right vendors in your portfolio. Look for vendors that not only help you deal with your existing technology debt, but also help you innovate and lead - this is central to your firm's shared BT agenda. Strategic vendors share your passion for creating successful business outcomes and want to help your team succeed in creating new sources of value for customers. By sharing your business challenges and inviting them into the strategy discussion, you open up the possibility of revealing strategies your leadership team may miss.

3: Step up to be a digital business leader.
Where is it written that the CIO cannot be responsible for, or the key catalyst of, digital business transformation? Digital business transformation is much more than running a digital P&L. Much of digital transformation revolves around applying technologies to create customer value. And that's exactly what business-savvy CIOs have been doing for the past 20 years. Yet, too many CIOs still focus on the internal workings of business operations. CIOs of customer-obsessed firms lift their heads to see their business from the outside in and shape their firm's overall BT agenda. With a clear focus on delivering business outcomes, you can show your peers what digital can do to transform your business and deliver greater customer value. Be inspiring.

4. Embrace the customer life cycle and journey mapping.
Driving customer value will become a top priority not just for your business but for you. Your team must build great customer experiences through digital technologies, requiring changes deep into the technology stack. If your team is to avoid becoming a barrier to customer loyalty, they must evolve to embrace customer experience techniques, such as journey mapping and touchpoint analysis. Your team must acquire new customer experience skills and learn to think from the outside in. And you must lead your team into the future. Become customer obsessed.

Nigel Fenwick is vice president and principal analyst at Forrester serving the information needs of CIOs