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Technology or Business Process? Which comes first? – by Chris Higgins

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Author: Chris Higgins, CIO at US Bank

In my role as a technology leader, you expect me to say “technology.” In my role as a Business and Operations leader, you expect me to say “of course, business process.”

As one who has worked in both of these roles of the past few decades, my thinking has evolved and the answer is “neither.” I have come to strongly believe everything needs to start with a defined customer and employee experience. Each interaction a customer has with a company presents an opportunity for a good, fair or bad experience. Business and technology leaders need to see the customer experience and employee support of that experience as the starting point for successful business engagements which are enabled, not driven by, technology and data.

While all companies want to put the customer front and center, it is often difficult to do.

Customer Centric Engineering offers bigger challenges. Today’s customers evaluate their digital experience across many different products, services and companies. For companies to win in the digital market place they must be deliberate about defining a customer experience based on segments and understanding expectations change over time. It’s easy for business and technology leaders to get caught up in the possibilities and bells and whistles, when customers and employees just want things to work. Technology and processes are great, but people matter more.

At the basic level, the customer wants to have their needs met, simply and without complications. For example, when the weather turns cold, you want to turn up the heat. It used to be as easy as moving the dial to a new setting. Now, with programmable thermostats, you push a button and nothing happens, so you try another one. By the time you have figured out the right sequence, you’ve worked up a sweat and don’t need to turn it up. While it’s great to have the technology to program the thermostat in your house, in the end people just want to feel comfortable and have their house at the right temperature. While technology can provide many capabilities, ease of use is often not one of them.

The objective of any business process must focus on making the customer/user comfortable. Data and technology supplement the process. Once we determine what a customer experience should be, a process can be designed to access data to be used to achieve the desired experience. Only after the experience has been defined can the business process be created and data requirements documented to build good technology solutions.

Getting this right, end-to-end, is crucial especially in the digital economy. If you only focus on building a new customer internet entry point for your customers and connect it to existing business processes and backend systems, you will fail to deliver a comfortable customer experience. In fact, it will expose all the failure points in the existing technology and business processes as the customer pushes buttons and still doesn’t get their objective needs met; the result being delays, incomplete data, or worse, reentry of the same data already provided on multiple occasions and a daisy chain of call center hand-offs.

To get this work done satisfactorily requires a very different approach. Traditional project deliverables such as business requirements do not provide the necessary information to design a solution. The sequential approach to building the software (waterfall) does not enable continuous feedback nor does it allow you to get to market quickly with a viable solution.

We have adopted a workshop-based approach to work differently. The consultants call these digital workshops. I have been to many, and they are not very digital. They are a collaboration of many different functional areas coming together in a facilitated environment to define the customer experience and build a process. All of this is done on whiteboards and flip charts with a lot of sticky notes. After days of work, pictures are taken so formal project deliverables can be produced and reviewed. But with only technologists and business people in the room, there is no telling if the process is intuitive to the customer or explainable by support personnel.

For this reason, customer centric engineering should include customers from the beginning and continue throughout the process. This allows constant feedback by those who are supposed to benefit from the change. It is increasingly important in the digital economy, where the pace of change continues to accelerate, that customers be brought along. Such changes must be managed and controlled to allow customers to adapt easily and become comfortable with the new solution.

Successful product launches also give adequate attention to employees. They need to be trained on how to use the new technology and data-enabled process to enable them to support both the process and the customer. If a process becomes too complicated, employees can’t explain it and customers become dissatisfied, an uncomfortable situation all around.

Therefore, the most productive workshops include employees and customers working together to implement changes. As those most impacted by the change, their input and buy-in is essential for success. In the end, if customers and employees are comfortable, the experience works and no one needs to turn up the heat.

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Christopher Higgins

About Christopher Higgins

Christopher Higgins is the Chief Information Officer of US Bank. He leads an organization of 4,300 employees and is responsible for the development and delivery of software solutions and the Company's technology infrastructure. Prior to joining US Bank, Christopher held a variety of Technology, Operations, Information Security, Disaster Recovery, Merger and Acquisition, Risk Management, Corporate Audit and Change Management executive roles at Bank of America during his 20 year tenure.