By Adrian Thirkill, UK MD, Easynet Global Services
IT has officially gone mainstream: geek chic graces fashion magazines and CTOs wear their high-vis jackets with pride as they become increasingly high-profile in their organisations.
A company’s IT strategy – and the resulting spend – is fundamental to the performance of its business operations. It doesn’t just support a business, it drives a business and defines its success.
Analysts are agreed that organisations are likely to have more money available for IT purchases in 2014. The challenge is to make sure that they’re investing for the right reasons: not just making investments which achieve a fast ROI, increase agility, contain costs or solve a short-term problem, or even in those areas of IT which increase productivity.
They’re all perfectly valid reasons to invest, but the truly smart business of 2014 will firstly identify the customers’ evolving needs, then invest in the technology to address them.
Marc Benioff, Salesforce’s chief exec coined the phrase ‘the Internet of customers’. Based on the Internet of Things in which everyday objects have connectivity and can send and receive data, the Internet of Customers reminds us that behind every social interaction, every Tweet, every app and everything else on the Internet is a customer.
We need to connect with and listen to our customers on their terms, not just broadcast to them, and the technology we invest in must help us with this.
Collaboration is likely to consume part of the IT budget in 2014 as more and more organisations roll- out unified communications platforms. Microsoft Lync, Office365 and videoconferencing systems all improve staff productivity, achieve fast ROI and save costs.
We need to ensure that at the time of scoping these systems, the customers’ requirements are integrated into these programmes. How powerful is it if your customers can Lync you with a question about a complex part of their service, or if they can hold a service management monthly update via videoconference? Perhaps they want to get in touch with a parts manufacturer based outside the UK without prohibitive call costs, and bring in to the conversation a technical expert from a different office.
Collaboration between staff and customers improves customer retention, engagement and satisfaction levels. Tools which make this easier are worth every penny.
Mobility will continue to be a major focus for 2014 – again, crucially for customers as it has the ability to transform the customer experience. A study from CEB, formerly the Corporate Executive Board, found that businesses are increasingly likely to invest in applications being more accessible from smartphones and tablets.
Customers need to access your website and systems via their handheld devices, so improving mobility for them is crucial. Here, it’s about customer choice: empowering the customer to communicate with you whenever, wherever and however they choose.
2014 is likely to see Application Performance Management climb up the CIO’s agenda. In terms of improving the customer experience, it’s an easy sell-in to the board: the business depends on certain applications to maintain functionality and offer a certain level of service to its customers.
Application performance management provides a detailed view of a company’s network which, when coupled with delivery guarantees at the application level, offers a very strong foundation on which to run an organisation and create a great customer experience. If the performance of a business’ applications drops below a certain threshold, the business will be notified and the cause analysed before the customer has even noticed.
The service provided to the customer is smooth and seamless: perfect for companies such as Ambassador Theatre Group which need to make sure customers have fast, efficient access to their ticketing applications.
Cloud will continue to consume investment. By 2014, says the CEB report, an estimated 20% of organisations will spend more than 4% of their IT budgets on infrastructure as a service, increased from 13% in 2012.
Those organisations that have already made the move to the cloud will carry out temperature checks to identify if their expectations have been met, and changes their strategies accordingly. And those who have shied away will either be faced with a workforce using their own consumer clouds, or will have to begin the migration process.
All great, but how do customers benefit? Here the benefits are indirect and subtle but still powerful. Customers will notice an improvement in business efficiencies, for example: improved website performance during the January sales as capacity-planning isn’t as necessary in the cloud; faster access to online applications, particularly appropriate for citizens accessing local government applications.
Security in terms of cloud and data will continue to be an area of investment for 2014, possibly more so than ever after this year’s flurry of high-profile data-related incidents.
The privacy and security of customer data must drive every CSO’s investment. Cloud security is still a concern for CIOs, but this looks set to change in 2014 as the onus is placed on the vendor to earn trust and demonstrate integrity.
Now, customers are security-savvy and know the right questions to ask. Businesses need to be able to respond, to take ownership and responsibility to protect customer data.
The flurry of technology forecasts for 2014 will no doubt continue until well into the New Year, but wherever budgets are being diverted and whichever investment forecasts are the most accurate, the one common denominator has to be this: ultimately, every IT investment a business makes should improve or enhance the customer experience. Without this objective, no IT spend is justified.
Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this and sharing their use-cases? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London and Amsterdam and explore the future of enterprise technology.