It’s time for CIOs to take charge of both back-office and business technology, leading with a customer-driven mindset.

There’s an alarming digital divide within many companies. Marketers are developing nimble software to give customers an engaging, personalized experience, while IT departments remain focused on the legacy infrastructure. The front and back ends aren’t working together, resulting in appealing websites and apps that don’t quite deliver.

We’ve arrived at this misalignment for understandable reasons. Previously, most chief information officers (CIOs) were hired to digitize and bring order to companies’ internal systems and processes. They saw websites as marketing channels and were happy to let chief marketing officers (CMOs) oversee that province of technology. They had, and still have, plenty to do just to keep internal operations running smoothly. Marketers soon got into the habit of developing not just content, but also software programs to better reach and transact with customers. But now that websites and apps are becoming cornerstones of the business, the stakes are too high to allow this division to continue. The two sides of IT need to come together, driven by customer needs.

It’s time to integrate. CIOs need to oversee all of IT — in close collaboration with marketers and the business units. Only then can companies deliver digital experiences that win, serve, and retain increasingly demanding customers.

It won’t be easy to connect back-office infrastructure with customer-facing programs. Each area calls for different habits and skill sets. But the good news is that we’ve found many CIOs who’ve risen to the occasion. By overseeing both agendas, with a customer-oriented mindset, they can ensure that these systems evolve together to support the corporate strategy. That’s the only way for companies to thrive in the emerging “age of the customer.”

Back-Office vs. Business Technology

The two kinds of software systems — call them “back office” and “business technology” — have very different implications. Back office involves big, complicated, expensive combinations of hardware and software, epitomized by the enterprise resource planning systems that integrate control and accounting functions. The goal here has always been reliability and affordability, supported by careful planning. It doesn’t need to be flashy; it just has to work all the time and not bust your budget. And since the only users are captive employees, usability is secondary and boring is fine.

References

1.A. Bartels, “Midyear Global Tech Market Outlook for 2017-2018,” Forrester Report, Sept. 25, 2017, www.forrester.com/report/Midyear+Global+Tech+Market+Outlook+For+2017+To+2018/-/E-RES140272.

2.“Who’s Really Responsible for Technology?” MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, June 13, 2017, www.youtube.com/watch?v=dkteNKsXihY&feature=youtu.be.

3.S. Schick, “TD Bank CIO Discusses His Approach to Transforming the Customer Experience,” IT World Canada, Nov. 4, 2015, www.itworldcanada.com.

4.See also K. Whitler et al., “The Power Partnership: CMO & CIO,” Harvard Business Review 95, no. 4 (July-August 2017): 55.