Editorial: Facing the Future

This may sound strange coming from a magazine about enterprise technologies, but it’s not really about technology anymore.

All those billions of dollars spent on new technologies, all those dotcom ups and downs, all the fantastic product innovations that stream out of companies. All of that can seem like the focus, but it’s really not. Nor are heavily scrutinized acquisitions, like IBM’s recent purchase of Informix, Caldera’s buy of parts of SCO, or Microsoft’s purchase of Great Plains.

It’s easy to get distracted. After all, you’re inundated by vendor after vendor offering updates, add-ons and new releases that will solve your data integration problems, your e-mail headaches, your security nightmares, your Internet access challenges, your legacy data access and your customer relationship concerns.

Technology dazzles us and entertains us as much as it frustrates us. With its constant changes and challenges, and its logarithmical growth in complexity, it can be a great distracter. You can be forgiven if you start to think, hey, technology is the answer here. And here. And over there. If you could only get your CEO to agree to spend what you really need to fix things.

But it’s not about technology anymore. What it’s really about is business.

I know you’re tired of hearing about the need for solid "customer-facing solutions" out of IT, but that’s what IT is about now, and in a very visible way – serving the customer, whomever that might be. Maybe it’s external customers trying to order goods and pay for them seamlessly from your Web site, then exchange or return them at a physical store. Maybe it’s internal salespeople demanding up-to-the-minute data on sales prospects, or top executives hungry for the latest budget revision, or suppliers who want order numbers, or desktop users needing support. They’re all customers in one form or another, and though we tend to forget this, they’re the sole reason for IT. They don’t really care about technology, although we try to convince them to; what they care about are solutions. They’re focused on the business side, not on the tools themselves.

One of our contributing editors, Jeff Gentry, makes this point in answering a reader’s e-mail (see "Response Time," page 10). In order to understand IBM’s acquisition of Informix, Jeff writes, you have to think like a business executive rather than a technologist, because business, not technology, probably drove that purchase. Exactly. We all need to think like executives part of the time.

A recent talk by Patricia Seybold, author of Customers.com and a new book called The Customer Revolution, drove this point home. "It’s no longer about the kinds of technologies we use in our businesses," she pointed out. Rather, it’s about the experience every customer has with your company. Although technology makes the transaction happen, the tools are just the enabler. What really matters is how the customer feels – and whether he or she will return for more.

If you need further proof, read new columnist Laura Wonnacott’s story of the experiences of wine.com and eVineyard on page 80. Two dueling wine retailers enter the market and within a few months, the little one buys out the big one. Why? One company used IT successfully to figure out how to serve the customer; the other didn’t.

As IT leaders, you’re quickly becoming more and more responsible for the customer experience. Companies that recognize the value of the customer’s experience – and I don’t mean just giving lip service to CRM – will be the companies that survive and thrive. How well you help your company manage that challenge may well determine the fate of your firm through the current economic shakeup.

Are you seeing evidence of IT’s merger with business? What’s the effect on your job? Write me at lbriggs@esj.com.