Another day, another city. This one is almost as hot and almost as humid as another, two continents away. But the song is still the same: It is the song of Odysseus in the land of the Lotus Eaters. If you grew up in a culture where ‘Western Literature” is taught in the High School years, you will recall the Odyssey of Homer, and Odysseus amongst the Lotophaguses, who dined on lotus flowers and enjoyed a narcotic reverie. And that is a bit of what one can feel sometimes listening to IT leaders discussing the difficulty of funding a project around Big Data for customer analytics, or creating a single view of the customer, or designing customer-focused systems. The litany of ‘those are great ideas, but we don’t have the remit.’ is endless. I love that word, ‘remit.’ I had never heard of it until I reached the USA in 1998. It means: Not my job.
Whose job is customer excellence? The same company that is $40 million into an ERP overhaul, and living with 35 year old invoicing/billing systems that cannot accodate the customer of 2012 beyond, will tell us: but we need to complete the ERP upgrade. And where does that leave you, exactly? Status Quo. Was it worth the $96 million four year price tag? The answer is: that isn’t the way to look at it – we HAVE to upgrade the ERP, but the ‘customer intimacy’ stuff is a ‘nice to have.’
We have been hoping to see more open business applications that allow customer and employee (such a pre-millenial word) share a customer support application and collaborate, or allow two workers to embed notes and chat. What is happening in the market will achieve more dynamic and people-centric capabilities, though in the meantime we are entering a phase of unprecedented lack of direction. Does an organization use some combination of Skype/Lync/Yammer? Which for which purpose? or Chatter? or Jive? Or email? Or little pods of Path social units? Or maybe Asana to really get stuff done versus shooting the breeze? Or overlays of WebEx Social or some Beehive magic? These choices are not intuitive, nor is the choice of any of them anything more than a way to unlock potential, like water over a dam. Where will the business applications come in that will help with analysis? With decision support? With business rules? These will be the turbines and gears and sluice gates that channel ideas into products, services and solutions – and few IT leaders can focus on both communication / social enablement and business process improvement with the 8% of their time not consumed with maintaining the established order of things.
IT will have to decide on its true soul. CEOs will have to decide if they have the leeway and commitment to vision to prod IT into greatness. Right now CEOs implicitly shackles CIOs into conservativism. Just enough rope to hang themselves, but not enough to form a ladder to the future. What is the secret that shaped a Jeff Bezos or Tony Hsieh, or for that matter Lou Gerstner? Vision, fortitude, and a love of the customer and the shareholder’s long-term interests.
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