Think customer first, not technology first

CIOs need to be thinking about the end customer and their experience of technology, not just technology for technology’s sake, said Eamonn O’Hare, ex-CFO of Virgin Media and Tesco.

Talking to O’Hare this week, he said the top challenges of technology, media and telecoms (TMT) companies is that they’re not well managed and often don’t think of the customer first. The majority of companies are too engineer and product orientated and don’t think very much about the customer – like BT, he said. But there are also the odd company like Sky who have got it right, and managed to package TMT products to customers in a user-friendly way.

You can take this analogy to board-level CIOs.  

At Computer Weekly I’m seeing a trend where IT execs are moving to board-level. Mike Sackman at Argos is a good example of this, he moved from Mitchells and Butlers to a board position at the retailer as CIO two years ago.

I get the feeling this is a positive step, as these companies are beginning to recognise the importance of IT and technology and are making sure it is represented from the top-down.

But O’Hare believes that most CIOs and CTOs in retail and TMT companies want to complicate life within organisations because they don’t understand the business.

They can be intellectually arrogant, he tells me, and they want to hold onto power by using technical language and building up “impenetrable walls of IT.” If these types of techies sit on the board, it can be difficult to think of the customer first.

“It won’t be the classic IT person sitting on the board,” he said.

He points to Laura Wade-Gery, poached from Tesco, she is now the board-level executive director, multi-channel at M&S. O’Hare said that you won’t hear her use technical terminology – it’s all about the “retail experience” or the “home retail experience.”

“The last thing you need is someone talking about how the software doesn’t speak to the hardware,” said O’Hare – you need people who can harness the technology and use it to make the customer’s life better. “It’s not technology for technology’s sake.”

Another company which is great at thinking customer first is, of course, Apple. O’Hare said it has managed to get rid of any clumsy digital and techy words and made the customer’s life simpler. As have The and eBay.

“Customers just want life to be simpler,” said O’Hare. “Customer first, technology second.”