Practical Analysis: Vendors Know That Service Matters -- And CIOs Need To Learn, Too

If you still have technologists sitting around swilling Red Bull and laughing at "lusers," wake up and smell the clouds rolling in.

Art Wittmann, Art Wittmann is a freelance journalist

August 13, 2009

3 Min Read

The chattering class is largely dismissive of Microsoft's plans to open a fleet of brick-and-mortar stores, complete with "Guru Bars," calling the move little more than copying Apple--a charge we've certainly heard before. But so what? If Redmond has learned anything from the Vista debacle, it's that meeting users' needs does matter. And whatever your opinion of Apple's technology and its suitability for the enterprise, one thing the company has plenty of is rabidly devoted customers who are willing to fork over a premium for its products, giving it some very tidy profit margins.

The lesson is that the pursuit of fanatical user loyalty is something that all enterprise CIOs ought to be thinking hard about. If you still have pockets of technologists sitting around swilling Red Bull and laughing at "lusers," wake up and smell the clouds rolling in. Add cloud computing providers to the already long list of vendors that are more than happy to take the delivery of IT services off your hands. As issues around cloud governance, risk management, and compliance get resolved to auditors' satisfaction, we expect to hear from more IT groups that suddenly care very, very deeply about end-user perception.

Yes, perception. No matter how whiz-bang your back-end systems are and how virtualized your data center is, if rank-and-file employees still grouse that "IT sucks" on a regular basis, you may as well not have bothered.

All companies need some level of formal IT service assurance program. As Jonathan Feldman discusses in his "Customer Service 2.0: Service Assurance" report, service assurance is an old and relatively straightforward concept--systems should work and help employees do their jobs. But delivering good service is less about technology than those soft skills that can be so hard for CIOs to find.

That's not to say service assurance as a discipline hasn't benefited lately from advances in automation. If you invest in testing a deployment once, you can roll it out many times in a predictable and thus quality-assured way. Even the most trendy concepts embrace service assurance principles. The Next Generation Data Center conference, held last week in San Francisco, featured multiple sessions dealing with automation. If the cloud is going to become our next single point of failure, then it makes all the sense in the world for service assurance concepts to be embedded in any cloud computing architecture.

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So use technology to further your service assurance program, but don't make it the centerpiece, because that's missing the point. Think 20% technology, 80% the squishy stuff. When's the last time you surveyed end users about IT's performance? Do you have someone who regularly follows up on service tickets to make sure the issue is still fixed and someone didn't just slap duct tape on a broken process? Staff reductions tend to wreak havoc on morale, and that can lead to an "us vs. them" mentality that helps no one but external service providers. For IT, listening to customers and making meeting their needs your top priority is do or die.

Art Wittmann is director of InformationWeek Analytics. Write to him at [email protected].

To find out more about Art Wittmann, please visit his page.

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About the Author(s)

Art Wittmann

Art Wittmann is a freelance journalist

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