The Cloud Will Drive Agility Into Your Customer Experience Ecosystem

This past June, Forrester began a conversation about what ails the networks of customers, partners, and employees we call customer experience ecosystems. My colleague Rick Parrish attributed the problems to an unhealthy mix of cumbersome rules, disorganized technologies, and complacent management. The result? Businesses aren't able to leverage those customer, partner, and employee relationships to quickly and effectively respond to market changes. Now, if you've followed this blog, you've seen me argue that you can't resolve these issues without a technology strategy that aligns with your business vision. Why? Because you can only do what your technology allows.

In our new report, Want To Improve Your Customer Experience? Turn To The Cloud, we examine how cloud services can help customer experience professionals drive flexibility and responsiveness into their customer experience ecosystems. At the heart of this report is our read of cloud services' fundamental value:

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You Need Great Employee Experiences To Create Great Customer Experiences

It's easy to get swept up in the power of the digital age, where smart mobile devices and cloud services open the door for new and exciting ways to engage customers. We think a lot about how these technologies will create enticing customer experiences (CX), making these digital touchpoints the face of the brand. I admit, as a technology fan, I'm enamored with this idea. But I'm also someone who thinks a lot about technology and the workforce, so I was equally animated by a conversation I recently had with the head of a CX consultancy. He warned that businesses risk over rotating on technology, viewing their people as receding in importance in delivering satisfactory customer experiences. He went on to say that businesses that make this make do so at their own peril. I agree.

More than three quarters of the information workforce -- those using a computing device (e.g. PC, smartphone, tablet) at least one hour per day -- interact with at least one customer as a routine part of their job. Over half of the workforce regularly interact with customers, partners, and customers. Are CX professionals thinking about the experiences these employees need as they think about customer needs? And -- close to my heart as a tech guy -- have they thought about what these neat digital tools can do for their employees, as they have about digital's effect on customers?

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Agility Must Be At The Core Of Your Customer Experience Ecosystem

This past June, my colleague Rick Parrish alerted customer experience (CX) professionals to a dire problem: Their networks of customers, partners and employees that affect customer experiences are fundamentally broken. Rick’s diagnosis reveals numerous organizational, cultural, and and partnership issues across businesses’ sprawling CX ecosystems. I admit it — this description makes the challenge of fixing these problems sound daunting. So where do you start?

The problems Rick identified in CX ecosystems seem to be the result of ossified organizations, cultures, and business relationships. This means CX leaders must drive new levels of responsiveness and creativity into their ecosystems. And the way you drive these attributes into your ecosystems is to seize on the concept of business agility. My colleague Craig Le Clair outlined 10 dimensions of business agility that provide the market, organizational, and process frameworks necessary to embrace market and operational changes as a matter of routine. This is merely setting the strategy, though; executing it requires a marriage between the business and technology strategies.

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Collaboration Technology Should Be Part Of Your Customer Experience Tool Kit

Businesses invest considerable sums of money with vendors like Box, Cisco, Google and Microsoft for a collection a technology we call collaboration tools. As an analyst, though, the question that has dogged me in watching this space is "why?" As in "what is the actual value a business gets from investing in collaboration technology?" The vendors' rationale for acquiring collaboration tools has shifted in emphasis over time, going from a conversation on cost savings to one on productivity gains. However, cost savings is an undifferentiated and limited message while "increasing productivity" can feel ephemeral because it is difficult to measure. Yet my inquiry queue remains full of companies trying to figure out how best to deploy these technologies and my briefings calendar is filled with startups and incumbents pitching new offerings in this space. This brings me back to my original question: Why?

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Your Technology Reflects The State Of Your Customer Experience Ecosystem, So Plan Accordingly

The business press has come alive over the past few weeks as companies as diverse as Delta, Facebook, and Tesla have publicly declared that they want to own software development for key applications. What should catch your attention about these announcements is the types of software these firms want to control. Delta is acquiring the software IP and data associated with an application that affects 180 of its customer and flight operations systems. Facebook is building proprietary software to simplify interactions between its sales teams and the advertisers posting ads on the social networking site. And Tesla has developed its own enterprise resource management (ERP) and commerce platform that links the manufacturing history of a vehicle with important sales and customer support systems. Tesla's CIO Jay Vijayan, in describing his organization's system, sums up the sentiment behind many of these business decisions: "It helps the company move really fast."

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Compelling Content Experiences Prove To Be Google And Microsoft's Rich Opportunity In 2014

In November 2013, we published a report laying out what will be the key points of differentiation between Google Apps and Microsoft Office 365 by 2016. At the core of this report is a simple message: The value of these cloud collaboration suites isn't inexpensive email; their value is in their role as an interaction point for your business ecosystem. And at the center of each of these interactions is content of some sort -- contracts, marketing collateral, product specifications, customer records, and more. As more of this content lands in Google Drive and SkyDrive Pro, the market will reward the vendor that makes it easiest for information workers to author content, share it with others, manage its use and distribution, and be aware of any changes to this content. We call this combination of capabilities content services.

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Simple Isn't Always That Simple When Moving To Google Apps Or Office 365

I spent the past three months talking to Google and Microsoft professional services partners, as well as Google Apps and Office 365 clients, to better understand how cloud collaboration and productivity suites are implemented and the value clients get once they move into these environments. One word that came up quite a bit during these conversations was "simple." As in "We think moving to [Google Apps or Office 365] will simplify our [costs, IT management, user experience, etc.]." This got me thinking: Should CIOs think moving collaboration workloads to the cloud actually simplifies their job? Well...yes, but there's a but. Simplicity in these environments comes with costs. Business and IT leaders must be sure they're willing to pay them as a condition of getting the benefits of the cloud. So what does this mean?

  • These platforms simplify contracting if you can live with the standard service agreement. One Google client told us one of the reasons they rejected the incumbent players was because they felt the licensing agreements were "convoluted." Yes, cloud collaboration and productivity suite providers have straightforward per user pricing for clearly defined feature/function tiers. But the devil's in the details. These players are able to deliver highly efficient, low-cost services because they do not permit a lot of deviation from the standard service agreement. So, healthcare clients looking for business associates' agreements will not find a willing partner in Google.* And smaller enterprises that require a dedicated collaboration environment will find that Microsoft enforces a minimum seat count on Office 365's dedicated SKU.
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How Does A CIO Build The Workplace Of The Future?

Anyone who's been following this blog knows that I've invested a lot of time recently laying out the case for why CIOs should take more ownership over employee engagement and workforce experience. With the foundational argument in place, it's now time to turn to the critical question: How should an IT department act? This can be a paralyzing question because owning the workforce experience means IT leaders must step outside of traditional technology provisioning and maintenance roles. That's why the path forward for IT leaders is to implement a series of changes in how they view themselves, employees, and the technology landscape:

  • Pivot benchmarks to account for engagement's link with IT satisfaction. Traditional IT benchmarks concern the performance of the infrastructure and employees' satisfaction with the service they receive. These are indeed important measures, but they do not give a complete view of how technology helps engage employees. We recently published our benchmarks for workforce experience that lay out what CIOs should be evaluating in addition to their customary metrics. These include employee engagement measures, employee technology attitudes, where employees learn about technology and how IT plans align with employee expectations. Evaluating both IT and the workforce in such a fashion requires the buy-in of executives, particularly the head of HR who traditionally owns employee engagement and satisfaction surveys.
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The Five Questions We Don't Get About Office 365 And Google Apps But Should

The era of cloud-based collaboration technology is here. Forrester's last survey of collaboration software decision makers showed that 67% are planning to or already deploy collaboration software-as-a-service (SaaS). Buttressing this stat is the incredibly high volume of inquiries I've received over the past two quarters from business and IT leaders trying to decide between Microsoft technology and the Google portfolio. The questions were so numerous that we published a report to answer our clients' basic queries. The increased activity, however, obscures the fact that we're still in the early days. As our report shows, IT leaders are still trying to get acquainted with cloud technologies: What features are in the suite? Is it secure? Are businesses like mine using it? These are essential things to know, yes. But they don't fully tell the story of how a company can get the most out of a cloud collaboration and productivity suite implementation. So, as you examine Microsoft Office 365 and Google Apps for Business, here are five more questions you need to address at the outset:

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Lessons From A CIO Forum Conversation On Employee Engagement

Yesterday afternoon, I moderated a panel on the role the IT department can play in the business's employee engagement efforts. Any follower of this blog knows that this is a topic I've talked about a lot lately (see previous posts here and here) because hiring, developing and retaining talented and productive employees is critical in the Age of the Customer. The panelists were Ed Flahive, Vice President Global Learning & Development at State Street, Mike Peterson, CIO and Vice President at CHG Healthcare Services, and Ray Velez, Chief Technology Officer at Razorfish. As you've probably observed, this was an eclectic group, representing human resources, IT and client delivery groups respectively. Well, that was on purpose. This topic requires perspectives from both business leaders and technologists. Having had 24 hours to think about that discussion, I thought I would share a few a-ha's I had from my conversation with these gentlemen:

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