Reinventing the CIO as Chief Interaction Officer

CIOs need to stop thinking of themselves as Chief Information Officers. The vague title gives the impression that the CIO is the custodian of information, when the important part is really what they're doing with it. Rather, CIOs should begin thinking of themselves as Chief Interaction Officers who free the flow of information between all departments and empower employees to positively engage with customers at any time, in any place.

The CIO's ultimate mission

Every job needs a defined “ultimate mission” -- that one thing that you must accomplish, if nothing else. For CIOs this mission is rapidly evolving. As IT functions are being outsourced or shifted to the cloud, more resources can be dedicated to innovation, rather than maintaining bloated infrastructure. This has forever changed the CIO's job, enhancing the ability -- and expectation -- to provide strategic value. Additionally, cloud computing has enabled other department heads to purchase technology out of the CIO's purview -- particularly marketing, which is now on its way to spending more on technology than IT, according to Gartner. In light of this, a fundamental question for any CIO is: what exactly is your mission?

If your answer centers on keeping your company's systems up and running, you're selling your department short. While it's certainly critical, right or wrong, this focus is becoming dated in the emerging customer engagement economy. Notably, as companies increasingly look to go wall-to-wall in the cloud in order to meet the demands of today's always-on customer, emphasis is shifting from maintenance to momentum -- enabling the company to move at the ever-increasing speed of business.

‘Information' is a commodity, ‘Interaction' is business value

Companies can no longer sustain the 3x investment required to attract new business. Instead, they need to drive more business and higher value deals from existing customers. That's why nearly 90% of CEOs rank customer engagement as their primary initiative. To thrive, CIOs must be customer-obsessed -- or rather, obsessed with equipping their people with a quasi-psychic power to anticipate customers' needs. CIOs must focus like a laser on orienting people, processes, and technologies around the customer, whose opinion will soon count more than the manager's in day-to-day decisions. They've got to take information, which is now a commodity, and create true business value from it by facilitating interaction.

As forward-thinking CIOs redefine their roles, I propose “Chief Interaction Officer.” Not only do you get to keep the initials, but you've delineated yourself in terms of a specific strategic role that is becoming more important by the hour in our tech-driven society. To reinvent your role for the 21st Century customer engagement economy, consider the following:

  • Tell everyone that you're the Chief Interaction Officer. Most employees have a surprisingly vague notion of what a CIO does. By defining it in these terms, you're letting people know not only what you do for the company, but what you are going to do for them. You're going to give them a real-time view of all the data that other departments are creating and using so that they can make more strategic, effective decisions. You're going to ensure that when they interact with a customer they have the entire company's information arsenal at their disposal, so that they can own any customer moment.
  • Visit members of every department. Find out that one piece of data or information that they're not currently getting that would most help them accomplish their mission. And get it to them.
  • Build a socially-enabled mission control center. I've talked about this concept before in terms of creating a portal that gives real-time access to information for customer-facing employees. I'd add to this that exceptional customer interactions largely hinge on your ability to facilitate excellent inter-employee interactions. Therefore, I'd suggest that an internal social platform be included as part of this mission control, which enables any employee to tap the entire organization to support real-time engagement. Imagine, for example, that one of your people is chatting with a customer who has a difficult question. Wouldn't it be powerful for them to be able to pose the question Facebook-style and solicit feedback from employees across departments in real time?
  • “Pimp” the CMO's ride. Let's face it, the CIO and CMO haven't been the best of friends in years past. As a department that wasn't necessarily considered revenue-producing, marketing hasn't always had first pick of new technologies. However, now that CMOs don't need the CIO's approval to purchase SaaS applications, they're gathering some of the most interesting ones available. The fact that they're purchasing awesome technology, though, doesn't mean that they have the ability to put it to optimum use -- it's not their area of expertise. CMOs can't integrate social media streams and marketing automation through a single portal, for example, and they can't integrate with data from other departments. Think of the CMO as the rich guy buying all kinds of cool trimmings for his car, and yourself as the mastermind who “pimps their ride” so they can drive in style.

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