Business-IT alignment has been a dream talked up for decades by analysts, speakers, technologists and business leaders. Did the Covid situation finally force things into alignment?
Look to the growing emphasis on customer experience (CX) among technology staffs, which has moved their priorities from the care and feeding of back-end systems to the care and feeding of actual customers. Not every organization is quite there yet, and many tech professionals still feel cut off from the final delivery of products and services to consumers. Nevertheless, the world of tech is changing, requiring new mindsets and ways of working -- including greater collaboration and greater empathy.
The good news, relates Michael Wallace, senior manager of solutions architecture at Amazon Web Services, is that most technology professionals and managers don't need major skills refreshes to get on board with these new priorities. Wallace, who shared his observations on the new technology workplace, points to the last two years as a major sea change.
"The pandemic showed IT groups they can now improve customer experience without having to learn new skills," Wallace relates. For example, IT professionals in contact centers "are asking themselves how they can move past monolithic constructs and into something that's fast, adaptable, programmatic and easily managed by developers. They want the ability to functionally integrate services quickly with programming languages that are commonly understood, and without the need to spin up additional infrastructure."
The Covid crisis, for all its tragedy and disruption, has brought people together that formerly existed within their own silos, and often did not see eye to eye. "The pandemic and its ensuing work-from-home model served as a powerful forcing function for IT-centric and business-centric teams to come together and be more resilient to changing market and world conditions," Wallace says. "Prior to the pandemic, IT teams often had competing priorities that left customer experience CX teams deprioritized. This led to shadow IT projects by business and CX teams that were never well implemented because they didn't have the full buy-in or support from IT."
There still are headwinds, of course, getting in the way of such a collaborative nirvana. Wallace makes the following recommendations for achieving greater alignment:
- Identify existing inertia in corporate culture: "From a corporate culture perspective, many large organizations have made huge investments in their technology platforms and the skills needed to drive these platforms," says Wallace. "Changing these tech stacks can be scary, so customer experience teams are compelled to keep with the status quo rather than improving the customer experience -- 'good enough is good enough.'"
- Identify areas where technologists need to get more deeply involved: "The most common issue is not knowing what is needed or where to start. For example, an organization can have a lot of data but may not know the best way to analyze that data," Wallace explains. "IT professionals should take a deeper look at both what is working well and what is keeping them up at night as it relates to their current tech stacks, and how they can better leverage AI and machine learning to overcome this challenge."
- Adopt design thinking: "The best thing a tech professional can do is think about a great customer service interaction they've had that can be leveraged in future CX designs," Wallace says. "Most likely, the great experience was due to agents having access to technology. Integrations to back-end systems, collection of meaningful data and leveraging machine learning to get the agent information quickly are all critical components to understanding and serving customers better."
- Look to emerging technologies, such as AI and machine learning: "In a contact center setting for example, improving the agent experience is fundamental to improving the customer experience. In the past, it was common to have back-end disparate systems trying to work together. This can be clunky and require more effort of the agent, which then increases costs and results in negative customer experiences. By leveraging technologies such as machine learning, you can ensure the agents have access to information they need to help the customer quickly and accurately, ultimately improving experiences for both the agent and the customer.
We may eventually see the day when tech and business priorities are indistinguishable. Until then, keep your eye on how CX is handled, and who makes it happen.