3 ways a customer-focused CIO role can hit the ground running and add value

By Jonathan Crowl

A customer-centric approach is changing the CIO role in terms of both its philosophy and its day-to-day responsibilities. According to research from IDC in "The Changing Role of IT Leadership: CIO Perspectives for 2016," the amount of time CIOs spend on customers increased from 10 percent in 2007 to 16 percent in 2016, likely reflecting enterprise demand to have the CIO more involved in customer engagement (The Changing Role of IT Leadership: CIO Perspectives for 2016, Dec 2015, Doc# US40662915).

Over that same period of time, CIOs actually reduced the amount of time spent with non-IT colleagues, going from 36 percent in 2007 to 28 percent in 2016. Such a trend suggests that while CIOs are taking on larger roles in thought leadership and customer engagement within organizations, the engine for this customer-centric approach is anchored firmly in IT.

IT remains the central component of the CIO's focus, but the work originating from IT is far more interdisciplinary than in the past. It affects the entire organization, from internal operations to customer engagement and beyond. Perhaps that's why 80 percent of line-of-business executives see the CIO as a top digital leader and influencer of a company's senior leadership.

With this customer-centric approach, the CIO role faces a range of new challenges. However, with these challenges come opportunities to deliver new value to your organization. Here are three key areas where you can align your own efforts with a customer focus that serves the company's larger goals:

1. Mobile commerce

Mobile commerce is a demanding venture in terms of the resources it requires to build a strong experience and platform, but many enterprise organizations are willing to make that investment due to the considerable value it can add. As Business Insider notes, consumers already spend about 60 percent of their internet time on mobile, and the market share of mobile spending is projected to grow much faster than desktop spending between now and 2020. For you, this kind of initiative requires building an IT team that has the necessary skills to launch such a venture. You'll need to forge partnerships with other vendors, and you will be expected to manage mobile security, data acquisition, mobile's integration with other platforms and channels and the overall customer experience — all while overseeing revenue growth.

IT departments may do the heavy lifting, but sales, marketing, UX designers and other executive stakeholders must be brought into the fold to ensure mobile commerce serves the entire business. You will be at the center of planning, designing, development and deployment.

2. Reputation management via social media

Social media is one of the primary channels to engage directly with customers. Hootsuite notes that 59 percent of customers believe social media makes it easier to get the customer service they want from brands. As such, it's important territory for you to cover. Though social media is often considered the domain of marketing, the CIO is a critical player when a brand builds a successful social presence. Effective reputation management leans on social listening and other analytics solutions you must work with marketers to implement. These new solutions must be integrated into the larger tech stack.

Be involved in documenting and managing enterprise social footprints, from internal password management procedures to educating employees on proper social media activity. Reputation management is also, in part, internal risk management. You have to consider the risks of employees sharing sensitive information, among a range of other threats specific to social activity. Lead the effort to build social media policies that outline the rules for each employee, as well as the procedures for responding to missteps and other brand emergencies that require reputation management.

3. Enabling core competencies with APIs

Any enterprise organization is only as good as its core competencies. Today's business landscape makes it hard to become a leader in any competency without the use of technology to help you meet those objectives.

Where this technology is involved, you must be as well. In particular, help other arms of your business flourish by supporting development and innovation activities that serve these core competencies. By developing and managing APIs, you can support internal use cases that enable core competencies while also integrating with the rest of the software ecosystems. These core competencies can't achieve success without ongoing support from CIOs, who can ensure IT teams are building technological foundations for success.

As a successful customer-centric CIO, seize upon this opportunity to improve the customer experience through IT expertise. This means focusing on customer-facing endpoints, monitoring and managing social footprints and facilitating IT development and software integration to build a seamless user experience. Prioritize these initiatives to deliver value throughout the entire organization while positioning yourself at the forefront of enterprise transformation.