Thursday, 29 September 2011

Business Technology vs. Information Technology

Business technology isn’t about different technology; it’s about a different way of thinking about technology – as a means to an end, not just a raison d’etre for the IT group.  Communication is the lynchpin of a business technology approach, allowing both groups to integrate and understand each other’s objectives and challenges in order to work together towards the ultimate objective of the organization – generate revenue.


Unify IT with the business

The term business-IT alignment has been around for a long time, but many organizations are struggling with putting this somewhat ethereal objective into practice.  IT needs to become part of the business, not just a ‘business partner’.  But what does this really mean?  It is difficult to devise a concrete strategy for integrating IT into the business to form a unified entity and dissolve departmental silos.  Fundamentally, it’s about involving both groups in business processes.  IT needs to be involved in business decisions and the business must be involved in IT decisions.  That means having business and IT people sitting in the same room when decisions are made – getting IT people involved at the earliest possible stage in new projects before there is a clear requirement for IT services and support and getting business units involved when IT is making changes to business systems.  IT can provide valuable automation solutions to business processes, and the business can communicate how changes will have impact in the context of customer interactions and patterns of business activity.  Business Technology goes beyond alignment, beyond integration – it’s about creating a symbiotic relationship between business units and IT to create a single aggregate business entity.

 Burt Reynolds 'gets' Business Technology


Measure IT with business metrics

The accepted metrics for IT mean nothing to the business.  99.999% availability might be considered a worthy goal for an e-commerce system, but if the 5 minutes of downtime that does occur coincides with, or is caused by, the busiest business period of the year then IT has failed to meet the needs of the business.  Business impact is simply not represented in this metric, so it hides a problem that IT won’t identify and ultimately address.  They need to understand the patterns of the business so that they can properly reprioritise incidents, problems and changes based on what is important at the time – e.g. which service interruption is costing the company most money.  In short, Business Technology metrics have a dollar sign in front of them to indicate how well IT is supporting business objectives.


Scrutinize both the business and IT when there is a failure

When IT fails to meet the needs of the business, the failure must be scrutinized to identify the problem and changes that must be made to both infrastructure and business process.  Fault does not always lie inside a little grey box – communication, competence and process could be at fault.  If an IT department decides to take a system offline over a holiday weekend, they might not be aware that it’s traditionally the busiest time for the business.  Is that a fault in IT, or a fault in the way the company communicates?


Tackle IT overspend to focus resources

In the past, technology has enjoyed a ‘silver bullet’ status, with technology investment taking a huge slice of the annual budget pie.  The current economic climate is exerting huge pressure on CFOs to identify savings, so they are naturally turning the microscope on the mysteriously opaque IT department and its massive price tag.  As a result, justifying budget is a number one challenge for the CIO.  If IT investment is justified in business terms (a difficult task) then the identification of redundant IT is a useful bi-product of this process.  Software and infrastructure that does not contribute tangible business value can be shut down or reassigned to form an IT function that is more ‘right-sized’ to the needs of the organization.



  • Business technology is technology that adds value to the business.  If it doesn’t add value, it’s probably redundant IT ready for the chop.
  • Tackle IT-to-BT transformation service by service – prioritised by business importance.
  • Extract the silver bullets - consider all IT to be legacy IT until its value has been proven as BT.
  • CIOs should be pro-active about cutting costs now, before the CFO wields the hatchet.

Thursday, 22 September 2011

How a Service Catalog can improve Customer Loyalty

It is widely believed that going above and beyond customer expectation is the key to creating customer loyalty.  However, recent research from the Corporate Executive Board's Customer Contact Council has shown that customer satisfaction does not correlate with customer loyalty in the way that we might expect.  The research shows that loyalty is impacted more by the ease with which clients can interact with your organisation to address their service requests, not mechanism or level of personal contact.

The key point is that often customer's service requests require multiple interactions before the customer receives the required service.  The expectation is that a single request should be enough to trigger delivery of the appropriate service.  In reality, the customer must often make several contact attempts through different channels to get the service they require.

Gratuitous use of stock photography to somehow denote customer loyalty

Many organisations perceive that good customer satisfaction is based on personal contact, and that self-service websites harm loyalty by presenting a faceless interface.  The reality is that as self-service website are becoming more readily accepted by clients as a point of interaction, the expectation of single-contact resolution of their request is simply transferred to this environment.  It is critical that the customer gets what they want the first time. If you can achieve this simple objective, customers will identify your organisation as people who can make their life easier, ensuring repeat custom is more likely.

The key problems with self-service catalogs are that customers often find it difficult to find the information that they need, and this information is presented in a way that makes sense to the service vendor, not the customer.  It is critical that the usability of your self-service catalog is designed from a user perspective - it must be easy to navigate and easy to understand in business terms.  Service vendors should avoid unnecessary technical jargon and industry acronyms.

Continual improvement of a service catalog should be driven by analysis of customer interactions, primarily to eliminate the need for multiple contact attempts.  If your service desk is receiving calls from customers who have already attempted to request a service through your service catalog these cases should be flagged and passed on to the manager responsible for your service catalog for detailed analysis of usability.  Common problems are that the self-service website is too difficult to navigate or understand, or that the service request form itself is not capturing the complete set of information required to deliver the service.

As in every other area of service management, continual improvement efforts must be focused.  Metrics for first contact resolution via your self-service channel should be analysed by service, based on impact to the bottom line, taking into account the number of requests, follow-up interactions and the value of the service and the customer. Improvement efforts can then be focused on services that are weakest, taking into consideration which services are used most and which contribute most to your organisation's bottom-line profit so that time is not wasted on improving under-utilised low-value services. This has a three-fold advantage of improving customer loyalty and reducing strain on the service desk, whilst driving highest possible impact on profitability that will be noticed by the business.

There are three takeaways from this:
  • Customers like the idea of being able to make personal contact with a human being, but it's not the easiest way to request services.  A speedy result is always the client's priority.  Plus, when you add a service desk operative to the interaction and you double the risk of human error.
  • As service catalogs are becoming increasingly commoditised, the business differentiator is not just whether you have one, but how well it works for the client on their first attempt.
  • Focused continual improvement is the key to customer loyalty.  Keep your best customers happiest for maximum bottom-line impact.
 These people need some more chairs