Forget Users; It's External Customers That Count - InformationWeek
IoT
IoT
Software // Enterprise Applications
Commentary
7/26/2007
11:01 AM
Commentary
Commentary
Commentary
50%
50%

Forget Users; It's External Customers That Count

Design business systems to serve the market, not your employees, columnist Seybold says.

Way back in 1998 when I published my book Customers.com, I began receiving fan mail from CIOs and business executives to the effect that one of my principles for success -- help customers do their jobs -- applies to internal and external customers alike. Over the years, however, I've discovered that you get into serious trouble when you focus too much on the end users of the application software you're designing and deploying. You don't want to make it easy for employees to do their jobs; you want to make it easy for external customers to do theirs. And often, the two objectives conflict.

For example, the CIO at one large manufacturing company spent 12 months streamlining processes and workflows with the active engagement of a cross-functional team of internal users. Then his team of IT staff and consultants spent another 18 months on a phased ERP deployment. The result was a successful project, except for one big catch: It failed to offer the access and flexibility that external customers demanded. They couldn't view their transactional history, custom-configure the supplies they were ordering, or make changes to orders in progress. The new ERP system was optimized to streamline the work of the internal staff, not to serve business customers well.

The error proved costly. "Now we're at least two years behind our competitors," the CIO laments. He wishes he had taken their approach: Start with customer portals to see what the buyers want, then re-engineer the company's internal processes accordingly.

What's the moral of the story? Don't rely on your internal customers to design their own applications. Of course, you'll want to involve them, but always start by driving every project from the outside in.

There are no internal-only applications anymore. Whether you're redesigning HR apps to simplify expense reporting, revamping your billing systems to be more accurate, or replacing your inventory-management system to streamline multichannel distribution, everything impacts your business customers in some way. Your job is to understand how they measure their success and then optimize your internal processes to address their current and future needs.

Cemex learned this lesson well. Initially, the company penalized local contractors if they changed their scheduled delivery times. But then it switched gears, optimizing its delivery system to meet any customer's needs within an hour. By abandoning its former practice, Cemex became the world's most profitable cement supplier.

So, whose metrics are you using?

Patricia Seybold is the author of Outside Innovation (HarperCollins Publishers, 2006)

Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
[Interop ITX 2017] State Of DevOps Report
[Interop ITX 2017] State Of DevOps Report
The DevOps movement brings application development and infrastructure operations together to increase efficiency and deploy applications more quickly. But embracing DevOps means making significant cultural, organizational, and technological changes. This research report will examine how and why IT organizations are adopting DevOps methodologies, the effects on their staff and processes, and the tools they are utilizing for the best results.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
2017 State of IT Report
In today's technology-driven world, "innovation" has become a basic expectation. IT leaders are tasked with making technical magic, improving customer experience, and boosting the bottom line -- yet often without any increase to the IT budget. How are organizations striking the balance between new initiatives and cost control? Download our report to learn about the biggest challenges and how savvy IT executives are overcoming them.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Flash Poll