These days it seems that everybody is focused on becoming more ‘customer-centric’. But how many have taken a customer-centric view of their technology environment? In our experience, very few.

Take the banking sector for example. Time and again, we hear customer complaints about banks messing up supposedly simple tasks. Banking deposits get returned, accounts aren’t opened and addresses not changed. And time and again, we hear that the problem lies with the technology.

While this may be true to an extent, the reality is that poor customer experiences are usually a symptom of a much larger problem: misaligned strategy.

Taking a different perspective

There is no blame to be laid for the current state of affairs. Old systems, with years of enhancements and bolt-on upgrades have left most operational systems less than fit for purpose. Constant pressure from the business to add ever-more applications and snappy new solutions has only compounded the situation which – for those in highly-regulated industries like banking – was already painfully complex to begin with.

What has happened as a result is that IT environments have become internally-focused; doing what is best for either the business or the IT department without full consideration for how it impacts the customer experience. Simply put, the actual execution of many IT strategies is no longer focused on what is best for the customer.

This is not to say that all IT projects must somehow be customer-focused; there are many valuable internal IT projects which reduce costs or improve processes that are far removed from the end-customer. The point is that when a project does touch the customer – and for most businesses that should be the majority of cases – it must be approached from a customer centric perspective.

Easier said than done

Prioritising projects based on value to end-customers will require IT departments to get their arms around all of the technology spend that happens in the business, both inside and outside of the IT department. Indeed, it is often those well-intentioned yet poorly integrated solutions deployed beyond the purview of the CIO’s team that create some of the biggest customer headaches.

Recently, we worked with a bank that had just launched a great new product. Customers flocked to the website, entered their information and duly transferred their money. But while the website looked slick, it ultimately did no more than push out a paper document in a processing centre to be manually re-entered into another system. To compound this inefficiency, the front-end was not designed to verify the applicants’ address which meant that many of the instructions were later rejected by the validation routines which took place after customers thought their instructions had already been executed.

If this serves to demonstrate anything it is that CIOs need to reduce the number of rogue projects which, in turn, will require them to reduce their current project pipeline by becoming more efficient at developing and deploying new programs into the network. Some will want to call back their top talent and brightest stars to work on what matters most to the business – the core – while others will focus on identifying and eliminating bottlenecks that slow the project pipeline to a dribble.

Getting cosy with the customers

Of course, following a more customer-centric IT strategy requires the IT department to have some insight into what actually adds value to the end-customer. To achieve this, IT departments will need to develop much closer relationships with both the business and those responsible for customer sentiment and insight to ensure they are identifying, validating and executing the right projects at the right pace and at the right time.

When we work with our clients to take a customer-lens to their IT project pipelines, we generally find that around 15% of those projects identified as being customer-focused don’t really add any value to the customer at all. Only a small percentage actually warrant the investment from a customer value perspective. In other words, significant savings of time and resources could be had if projects were validated for customer value up front so that adjustments could be made and interdependencies identified.

More than happy customers

CIOs should be particularly keen on helping the business become more customer-centric. For one, it should reduce the overall complexity of the IT environment and focus minds on a single unifying objective. It should also allow the IT department to build stronger ties to the business and, in doing so, become a more valuable business partner for the organisation.

Ultimately, making the business more focused on what matters to the customer may be the most important thing that today’s CIO can do for their organisation.  

By Mark Guinibert and Bryan Cruickshank, KPMG in the UK