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12/1/2008
04:00 PM
Bob Evans
Bob Evans
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CIO Memo To Staff: Should Customers Really Rank Last?

In ugly times like these, what message does a CIO send to the business technology team about 2009? The National Bureau of Economic Research just declared that the United States entered a recession a year ago, consumer spending has tanked, the auto industry is floundering, and the financial industry is still trying to find its bottom (so to speak). If you're looking

In ugly times like these, what message does a CIO send to the business technology team about 2009? The National Bureau of Economic Research just declared that the United States entered a recession a year ago, consumer spending has tanked, the auto industry is floundering, and the financial industry is still trying to find its bottom (so to speak). If you're looking for inspiration, Gartner VP Michael Maoz has just posted a hypothetical "CIO to Staff" memo that's worth reading.Maoz's memo could serve as a solid template for how to communicate some hard realities -- "We are going to have to reduce head count at least 5% to 10% this year" -- while also keeping the team focused on the urgent job at hand:

"I don't know how deep the cuts will be, because the next two quarters are going to make the difference, and we just don't have good forecasts. But I do have guidance for all of you on how to keep your jobs, how to keep your teams engaged, and keep morale high. We've built this department slowly and painstakingly. We don't have a lot of fat. In fact, we have just about no fat. I suggest the following:

"Let's go with one major push around social networking. There is so much data showing that our marketing departments are under pressure because there is no immediate way to judge the success of so much of their budget. Social networking technologies that will engage customers on our website and on mobile phones are not that expensive and the data can be analyzed with our existing systems.

"Whenever we look at extending contracts on some of our old systems used for customer service, e-mail, survey, chat, and knowledge management systems, look at the functionality in our enterprise business application suites to see if any of these systems have matured enough to the point that we can use our enterprise agreement."

Maoz's hypothetical memo also touches on vendor negotiations, cloud computing possibilities, setting priorities, and more. And then, right near the very end, he delivers a pointed message about focusing on customers -- as he puts it, "not the sales, service, or marketing departments, but the customers who buy our goods and services." So if I'm one of the recipients of this memo, my behavior will reflect the message itself: I'll think of all those technology issues first, and I'll think of customers last.

This is a trap that too many companies -- and too many CIOs -- fall into repeatedly. And it's also one of the reasons why business leaders across many organizations view business technology departments as tactical cost centers: because only in IT does the customer come last. Even someone with the expertise and insights of Maoz -- a prominent research VP and distinguished analyst at a big consultancy -- regurgitates the old, tired, and deadly stereotype of IT teams as heads-down grunts whose bottom priority, quite literally in Maoz's letter, is the customer.

Ah, yes, the customer -- "not the sales, service, or marketing departments, but the customers who buy our goods and services." If business technology departments don't start making customers the top priority instead of a throw-in at the bottom of the list, then the news in the very real memo from the very real CIO about the coming year will be brutal indeed.

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