Global CIO: Stop 'Aligning IT With The Business'

It's time for IT to show its dynamic value by focusing on customer needs rather than internal issues.
Many of today's best companies have buried or are burying forever that corrosive Paleolithic view of IT as internally focused bit-twiddlers who think customers are the internal department heads who get paper copies of monthly logs of server uptime (guaranteed delivery no more than 21 days after the end of the month being tracked). Sidestepping such old and harmful mindsets, the business-technology leaders in these best-in-class companies are ripping costs out of maintenance sinkholes as rapidly as possible and reapplying those precious dollars to applications and services that are not just "customer-facing" but are indeed "customer-embracing." They are then able to connect intimately with the primary market forces that will shape what their business needs to be, rather than what it used to be -- and those primary market forces are their customers, not their internal colleagues. Companies that can do this will gain significant competitive advantage by knowing immediately not just when but also why customer preferences are shifting; by knowing what types of questions, complaints, and suggestions customers are raising; by establishing a sense of trust via a two-way dialogue predicated on customer preferences; and by giving the entire organization hugely valuable and ongoing feedback that can be used to refine, expand, or even overhaul business processes, communication, product sets, management structures, and even high-level strategy.

Let me take a moment to clarify what I am NOT saying: I am not saying IT people should start running out to prospects' offices with sales kits tucked under their arms, and I am not saying that every company has to give every customer whatever that customer wants. What I am saying is that IT focused on customer needs and engagement and opportunities will prove to be vastly more valuable than IT focused on internal issues. And I am saying that "aligning IT with the business" is condemning CIOs and IT organizations to the internal tar pit, where death won't come quickly but from which there's no escape. And I am saying that massive new evolutionary prospects lie outside the company's four walls and are centered within what customers need, want, and haven't even figured out yet. And that's why IT needs to align with customers.

This is a subject to which we'll surely be returning frequently in the months to come because I believe it will become, quite simply, the leading factor in determining success or failure in the world of business technology. Those CIOs who cannot unshackle themselves from the age-old bonds of internally focused thinking and execution will not be able to survive, let alone thrive, in the years ahead, while those that can shake free and lead the interconnected engagement with customers will remake the way business success and business technology are defined for many years to come.

To find out more about Bob Evans, please visit his page.

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Mary E. Shacklett, President of Transworld Data
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer