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Technology Gets Personal

SMAC Dab in the Middle of Customers: A New CIO Agenda

Consumer expectations can propel innovation in nearly every industry. They enable the next generation of technological trends as they gravitate toward the latest tools and engagement platforms. This makes the CIO’s job more strategic than ever. The decisions and direction of an IT organization may determine the fate of an entire organization. And many of these innovations will revolve around the customer experience.

“IDC believes there are clear indicators that the existing role of technology management will evolve in a few short years to a set of roles that includes management of innovation, information intelligence, customer experience, and digital business presence,” says Fred Magee, adjunct research advisor with IDC’s Research Network. “It’s going to be an exciting decade.”

Leading this evolution are so-called “SMAC” technologies—social, mobile, analytics, and cloud. Each technology is critically important to business on its own, but when considered as a holistic unit, SMAC can enable customer interactions and engagement that are greater than the sum of its parts. 

SMAC capabilities create an evolving ecosystem that supports decision making by collecting, managing, and interpreting customer information. But, where IT was once tasked with the daunting responsibility of maintaining and combining disparate data systems, SMAC technologies turn the tide, allowing professionals to implement consistent, scalable solutions across platforms, leverage social insight, and create mobile experiences that boost engagement. Thinking of SMAC as a single integrated unit, IT departments can cultivate the experiences consumers expect, giving the people what they want—superior service—in real time.

Much like data scientists, IT professionals will be expected to hone their analytical skills so they may design tailored solutions encompassing all pieces of the SMAC stack to leverage emerging technologies and improve customer activities. CIOs should also prepare for a transition from operations to integration, where they will be expected to lead IT, and sometimes the entire company, on its journey to implement SMAC’s potential for business growth. Such an approach often requires IT departments to optimize their infrastructure with efficient and integrated processes and technology, so they can continuously learn and strengthen their understanding of customer behavior based upon interactions across channels.

According to Forrester Research Analyst Liz Herbert, vendor relationships will evolve as well to meet the potential that SMAC affords. Technology suppliers are increasingly integrating tools and technologies into a one-stop SMAC shop. This results in more complex relationships with clients that may touch multiple departments and have multiple stakeholders. New service models, delivery mechanisms, and skill sets become essential. CIOs and other technology professionals must reconsider how they work with these vendors, creating partnerships based on customer-related outcomes. 

The SMAC stack at work

As technology becomes a given element of the customer experience, companies must work to ensure that their SMAC strategies align with the increasing customer expectations. Each area requires concentrated care and attention as brands work to extend and enhance their competitive advantage. Done right, a holistic approach to SMAC will reflect the best of the intersection of technology and people. 

Social media’s constant evolution allows the most popular platforms to remain relevant and exciting, bringing new opportunities for engagement to consumers across the globe. Each channel—Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Instagram, and more—acts as a customer’s mouthpiece, allowing businesses and individuals to interact at the one-to-one level.

Yet many organizations lag behind in leveraging these tools. They operate under the dated notion that social media must be an extension of their advertising strategy, not a strategic and technology imperative. Those that are actively trying to catch up to social’s rapid growth must focus on customer engagement and cross-channel relationships to use these platforms to build trust and a foundation for customer loyalty. Brands must monitor and respond to conversations in real time in an effort to curb negative sentiment and increase customer retention. They must also work to connect social interactions with the remainder of the customer experience, incorporating insights with the customer’s overall profile in order to achieve the omnichannel experience consumers now expect and demand.

Mobile technologies promise to bring great change to the enterprise, both internally and externally. Within an enterprise, mobile tools can put accessibility and real-time capabilities in the hands of an entire workforce. The emerging Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) culture, for instance, will continue to gain momentum with regard to employee satisfaction and retention, and internal productivity and utilization. This may be a challenge to an IT organization that isn’t equipped to house data in the cloud, deliver wireless connectivity, or enable data sharing among remote users.

Externally, mobile is the new commerce frontier. Most consumers in developed markets have at least one mobile device, and expect to use it to conduct business and access digital content with ease and great speed. More brands will look to blend their in-store and online interaction channels, or try to deliver an entire experience on a mobile device. Mobile wallet technology will also likely gain traction as consumers begin to abandon physical cash and credit cards and pursue the convenience of using their smartphone to complete transactions. These pose both business and IT challenges and opportunities.

Companies and consumers generate billions of gigabytes of data each year, and this number will only continue to climb. And while most companies recognize the importance of developing effective analytics processes, many are still trying to implement the proper infrastructure and capabilities necessary to turn data into actionable insight. 

Companies must leverage structured and unstructured data from a myriad of sources—including social, mobile, and the cloud—so that business users in all parts of the organization can turn this insight to action. Thankfully, collecting and analyzing data continues to improve, with less expensive, faster tools and technologies becoming available. Companies can more easily extract value and keep pace with the increasing volume, velocity, and variety of data created. And through predictive analytics, brands can then forge stronger bonds with customers by anticipating their needs and proactively offering goods and services that give them the advantage over the competition.

Overall, cloud computing stands as the most mature component of SMAC, for such capabilities have been around for quite some time. However, today’s increased awareness and adoption on the individual level have brought cloud computing to the fore once again, making this technology an integral element of all future strategies. Though once considered an ideal way for IT organizations to store growing amounts of data, the cloud has entered the mainstream mindset. Its vast consumerization has enabled this technology to become the cost-effective way to manage enormous amounts of information. While businesses continue to use cloud capabilities to store customer data, consumers often choose to store photos and music so they may retain easy access to valuable information from every device.

Security will play an integral role in maintaining loyalty and retention as company and consumer cloud usage continues to grow. Just as consumers expect their personal files to remain intact within their private cloud, brands must also ensure that all sensitive customer data within the company cloud exists behind safeguards that protect their personal information. While easy internal access to relevant data across the enterprise stands as one of the cloud’s primary advantages, technology leaders must ensure that such accessibility remains protected, for compromised consumer data will breach customer trust, often leading to dissatisfaction and churn.

Developed markets currently dominate the implementation of SMAC capabilities, but emerging markets will gather momentum as they move to adopt such technologies at a faster pace. These markets have fewer legacy systems in place, allowing them to leapfrog conventional technologies and channels. 

Regardless of market or industry, business leaders must look at the technological and business possibilities of the integrated SMAC stack. CIOs can take a lead in this area, by combining technical expertise and business acumen to propel their firm’s innovation in the customer experience.