The Business Value Exchange:

Jessi Pervola discusses the challenges of digital transformation faced by today’s CIOs & IT Leaders


An article in CIO earlier this year discussed how the CIO and IT team must march to a different beat. Keeping the internal business customer happy is no longer the be-all and end-all. Now the external customer sets the beat, and using IT to deliver a superlative customer experience is the ultimate mission.

The piece cited how JetBlue Airways is getting rid of check-ins entirely.  “We went through a mapping of our processes and decided check-in was meaningless in that it added no value to the customer,” says CIO Eash Sundaram. IT rolled out a new system whereby certain customers are automatically checked in 24 hours prior to their flights.

Increasingly, a customer-centric approach is a matter of competitive advantage, even business survival. By 2020, customer experience will overtake price and product as the key brand differentiator, according to Walker Information, a national consulting firm focused on customer intelligence.

Art Papas, CEO and founder of Bullhorn, concurs: “As every business leader knows, customer relationships are the key to winning new business and retaining existing accounts and loyalty. It’s these relationships, not technology, that will give you the competitive edge.”

He chides any CIO set in the old groove. “So for you to think about technology and its functionality first is a mistake,” he argues. “You must first think about your people, how they can better interact with customers, and then which technology can facilitate this.”

The leap from implementing processes organised around logic to a customer-centric mindset is a mighty one, especially when those customers get more demanding and base their decisions on emotion. They expect online service providers to have an understanding of their needs from day one, and they want to be treated like they are your only customer.

Tech leaders such as GE and HPE invest heavily in new design centres and capabilities, while others, like financial firm Capital One, are purchasing design and UX agencies to bring what they now understand to be a core capability in-house.

Tech leaders are also now presented with an ever-growing number of platforms that could bring their products to life and make them palatable to customers who want to consume them digitally. But the key to success is to avoid bombarding customers with layers of complexity, and to keep the experience simple, says Jessi Pervola, Director of Design at Smart Design.

“It has become crucial to consider how the experience that these technologies enables should be designed, packaged and delivered to make the final experiences simple and desirable,” explains Pervola. “It is this design element that has been missing for many organisations over the years, leading to usability and desirability issues for the end user.”

With the success of design-led companies such as Facebook, Airbnb and Uber, there has also been an increase in the expectations of consumers. They now want to interact with brands and products seamlessly across digital and physical platforms and devices, and IT teams must deliver on that.

The end result is a steep learning curve for IT directors, who have inevitably had to evolve as a result of the rise of digital in everyday life. Now they must focus on building an understanding of the design and customer experience considerations that sit alongside the technology.

It’s a big ask, says Pervola. “In many US companies, we are seeing CX directors come on board to work closely alongside their IT counterparts. In these cases, the IT director’s primary focus remains on the technical side of things, while the CX specialist ensures the final needs of the customer are also met.”

Back to the example from CIO, cited at the beginning of this piece.  “At the airport, we don’t ask the questions of ‘What’s your name? Where are you going?’” reveals JetBlue’s Sundaram. “We have already mapped all the touch points and eliminated those that add no value to the customer.”

Instead, the JetBlue IT team now puts people ahead of processes and looks at all products through the customer lens. It’s all part of IT’s new job to focus on being proactive rather than reactive.

“The no-check-in initiative is part of JetBlue’s all-out push to deliver superlative customer service, which the airline sums up in its mantra of ‘personal, helpful, simple,’” says Sundaram.

This article first appeared in The Business Value Exchange

Written By Helen Beckett, Editor of The Business Value Exchange

Feb 2016