This is the age of the customer," Forrester has declared. The impetus for this is the growing number of customers using mobile, social and other digital technologies to obtain information that will determine how they engage with organisations.
Only "customer-obsessed" enterprises will prosper, according to the analyst firm.
CIOs across the public and private sectors know full well the impact of these empowered customers: They expect to engage on whatever platform they choose,using their preferred devices, and expect security and efficiency as default settings for transactions.
The upside is the availability of technologies that provide organisations a high-definition view of their customers and the potential to use this insight to benefit the business.So what happens at the point where business technology andcustomer engagement meet?
The question was at the centre of a recent CIO roundtable discussion held in association with Ruckus Wireless. Thirteen CIOs and two specialists from Ruckus Wireless tackled a range of related issues, including the shifting demands of customers, the rise of bring-your-own-device schemes, and location-based data services.
No industry is unaffected
"Customers are now used to much more information than they've ever had [before], with much more comparative information," says Mike Clarke, CIO of SkyCity. He cites the case of hotel comparison service Trivago, which checks various channels to work out where the cheapest rates are.
Clarke says the goal is to provide a set of offerings that will ensure customers will get a "great response" whether they come through online, by phone, or go to the hotel and opt for self-service or prefer to speak to staff.
"We are looking very much at layered models that overlap quite comprehensively. That is not an easy thing to do."
"We're seeing quite a significant disruption happening in education," says Owen Werner, general manager, information management services at Unitec. He says organisations like Unitec have to respond to massive open online course (MOOC) providers such as edX and Coursera that offer courses for free.
"We need to start offering and providing the services online and available as well," he says."We're having to transform very quickly. For education, it's actually new and challenging in terms of [transacting with] a student online only rather than face-to-face, and working through the traditional enrolment and applicationprocedures."
"Education is still formalised around semesters, standard class hours and times. Now we have to respond very, very quickly to a 24x7 world. And it's not just the customer needs but now all of our staff, all of the support procedures and everything else quickly need to transform and adopt that new philosophy and new method ofworking."
Stevenson Group is a diverse business ranging from mining to concrete to aggregates, says its CIO, Andries van der Westhuizen. Each division has its own requirements for customers. In the case of concrete, says van der Westhuizen, the operation is fairly time based because delivery has to be done before the concrete sets. "Sometimes you have multiple deliveries in sequence and the trucks needs to be dispensed in that sequence. What we are looking at now is, after we've changed some of the backend systems, we have now got the ability to potentially send a notification to the customer saying 'this truck is on its way and it will be there at that time.'"
Carlo Bussen, CIO of NALCO (National Aluminium), says the ICT team works "extensively" with both internal and external customers. This is a "balancing act" with regards to resourcing, he says. "Internally we need to provide robust systems and efficient processes and on the other side we have the salespeople, who are looking for innovative solutions for their customers. From a customer perspective both are important, we need reliable manufacturing and delivery systems and we must make it easy for the customer to do business with us."
For Simon Casey of real estate firm Barfoot & Thompson, these trends provide a different set of challenges for the salesforce. If the salespeople don't have easy access to great information, potential customers may be more knowledgeable about a particular property. "This starts to challenge the salesperson's role."
"I would say traditionally some companies have been able to build their relationship based on their knowledge," says Casey. "But nowadays, a customer might have the knowledge and so the salesperson has to provide other services as their strength such as marketing expertise."
Mobile and machine-to machine
For the CIO panellists, consumerisation of technology has brought a range of benefits.
For Aaron O'Brien, CIO at Les Mills International, it meant reduced call rates to IT staff. "They don't have network admin access but they can do whatever they want," he says, on the devices issued to staff.
"The only thing that we've banned is Torrent software," says O'Brien. "And giving that freedom, actually the responsibility came back on them and they started to really take ownership."
He says that after giving people Apple devices there was a reduction in the number of dropped phones. "They really started taking care of their equipment," he says.
He says that the call rates after introducing Macs were "surprisingly low".
"It was almost like people really want a Mac and then they're embarrassed to call the help desk if it doesn't work. Or, they can figure something out. They're going to ask their mate, 'How do you do this?' Our call rates have actually gone down as our headcount has gone up."
For Doug Wilson, CIO at Automobile Association New Zealand, the deployment of mobile apps helped automate transactions that would have otherwise gone to the call centre.
"We have experimented with [location-based] apps on mobiles," says Wilson, noting that younger people are more comfortable with this technology.
"We have been doing a lot of work with voice recognition in order to take out costs so that when people ring us we know what they want and can provide that information to the operator," he adds.
"Interestingly, we have some data when we experimented a year or two ago with asking people if they are ringing from home. We don't always know because they might be on a mobile and we cut out about 30 percent of their calls by just asking that question.
"If they're ringing from home, we know who they are, we know what sort of car they've got, we know a whole lot of stuff about them and that transaction goes through without any people [intervention].
So our call centre handles more work with the same number of people because of the technology that we're using."
Duane Makin, manager business solutions at Vector, provides another example: "Vectors mobile app enables the reporting or notification of outages across our electricity, gas and communications networks. Customers can then subscribe to location based updates on service restoration timing and progress."
Machine-to-machine and connected devices are one of the fastest growing areas,says Andrew Crabb, head of enterprise solutions and services at Vodafone. "You can start with things like smart metering and cars," he says. "I would say 50 per cent of the car manufacturers now are either actively connected or working very hard towards it. So they know where you are."
But having access to location based data poses a question to enterprises: "How do you actually make use of that information in a way which enables you to offer something different [to] yourcompetitors?"
The panelists noted the 'go' and 'no go' zones for data mining on location-basedinformation.
"We can monitor a lot of activity on our website," notes Casey. "And the question is whether you would generate an action as a result of a type of search. But we just won't go there. We're not going to do that; I think there's just a boundary that you shouldn't cross. You define that in your own business."
"The key is that boundary moves pretty much every day," says Kevin Angland, CIO at IAG New Zealand. Technology" is moving so quickly that what is spooky today, customers [will] expect in thefuture."
Simon Putnam, general manager and IT manager at Sony DADC New Zealand, raises concerns about use of the data being collected:
"As CIOs, we are quite happy to collect that data and put it together in a table or present it to somebody, but we really need psychologists and good marketing people [to interpret them], otherwise that data can actually backfire."
Data by itself is not worth a lot, says Roger Jones, GM business technology,Auckland Transport. "How would we use it, what would that mean for us as a business, what business processes would need to change and what impact would they have on the customer and the customer service? Is it worth doing, is it worth investing in?"
"It [location based services] is a double-edged sword," says Edwin Ng, CIO of Atlantis Healthcare. "It's disruptive but can be really useful. When we are treating patients with Alzheimer's, it's really useful when they have location-based devices. Should they wander from the house and disappear, you know exactly where they are. We just have to be careful how it's used."
The world is experiencing massive proliferation of mobile computing devices like smartphones and tablets; and increasingly, wearable technologies like smart-watches and fitness-tracking devices, says Melvin Yuan, location services product marketing for Ruckus Wireless. These devices are connected to the internet almost 24x7, enabling their users to tap into a vast range of web-based information and services.
This phenomenon is also creating a unique opportunity, he says, to locate individuals via their smart-devices. These devices are often wi-fi-enabled, and are identified by their MAC addresses.
Location data, he says, "really enables us to make really sharper decisions."
He relates his experience working with a CIO for a retail organisation in Singapore over a year ago. This particular CIO, he says, made a "bold" decision to use the technology. "He said to his team, let's not wait until we find a good use case before we deploy because we really don't know what we don't know."
The CIO made that leap of faith because he felt very strongly that location data would be able to give him insights that he may not even be looking for. "Within a week of collecting data, we told him something that he never knew before: More than 70 percent of his shoppers were spending between 20 to 40 minutes in his store," says Yuan. In-store promotions were only being announced every two hours. As a result of the new data, the store began looking into changing the frequency of promotions.
"We're facing many disruptions to various businesses over the last five to 10 years," says Yuan. "We're realising that businesses need to change their models of operation so that they can draw people back from the online world back to the offline world. So retail needs to change; schools need to change the way in which they create student experiences as well.
"And I strongly believe that location data can truly help businesses and manyorganisations innovate in the way that they create experiences for their customers, for their students, for their residents."
"We even spoke to real estate developers who are looking at creating iPad applications for residents of luxury developments because they know these residents want a higher quality of service.