As if CIOS don't have enough to worry about, marketing guru Regis McKenna argues in his new book, Total Access (Harvard Business School Press, March 2002), that they are now the guardians of customer strategy and outreach -- functions once considered marketing's responsibility. When a customer has a problem and contacts the company via the Web or a call center, if that query is not resolved quickly and completely, the customer's trust in that company may evaporate. And who is in charge of the infrastructure that supports such crucial customer interactions? You guessed it: the CIO. CIO recently talked to McKenna about his view of the CIO's evolving role. CIO: Customers still need to be catered to and their needs analyzed so that a company can keep improving its products and services, so why wouldn't the VP of marketing be in charge of what you call "total access"?
MCKENNA: The VP of marketing in most organizations doesn't have the skill to sustain the infrastructure that supports the marketplace. If I order a product online, who gets that information? Who tracks the product's delivery, and how does the system respond to that? The CIO has the technical skill to create and maintain the network that supports this interaction. If we look at who designed CRM applications, it was initiated by technical people -- not by marketing people. Look at Tom Siebel or Larry Ellison -- these guys had the technical skills to know how to apply those applications. Siebel Systems Inc. was doing sales and customer support at Oracle Corp. He was using customer technology to develop apps to support Oracle customers.
Most marketers have been trained in the art of how to change a customer's mind -- not how to change a customer's experience. The CIO is directly in touch with the customer. After all, who had to design the interface with the customer? Who has to develop the feedback system that provides service and products directly to the customer? The CIO.
Are CIOs up to this task? And if not, how can they prepare for a role you call "chief total access architect"?
I think CIOs are every bit as up to the task as the marketing community. It takes people who spend time talking to customers to understand what they want. Technology is taking the CIO into this role of increased customer interaction. The CIOs I have interviewed are aware of this. They have to understand what customers want in the retail environment. They have to understand the distribution channel. (For a good example of how one CIO got to know his business and its distribution network, see "His Side of the Mattress," Sept. 15, 2002).
So who are the companies and CIOs doing this right?
Wal-Mart and Dell are places where the CIO is playing chief total access architect. Wal-Mart updates its customer database every 90 minutes and uses that to keep its inventory supple. Marketing could never keep track of a customer that rapidly. Starbucks is becoming more dependent on its CIO and infrastructure.
But how will the CIO find time to handle this new role?
We know the CIO role is much more complex today, but one person doesn't have total responsibility anymore. There's a person who is the chief total access architect and then there are people responsible for the architecture. You see within a top IT organization a number of people in charge. They have to work together for a complete solution.