One thing was plainly evident at this year’s CIO Assembly at Niagara-on-the-Lake: IT departments have more different types of customers than you can you can shake a barcode reader at – and they’re all getting plenty of respect from the CIO.

Giving the best service possible to internal customers has always been Job One for CIOs. But in many organizations, not so long ago, external customers weren’t that high on the priority list. That’s changing in a big way – and for good reason.

We need only look at some of our best companies to see the importance of putting the external customer at or near the top of the heap, when it comes to support from IT.

Take Proctor & Gamble, for example. As keynoter Robert Scott, VP, Innovation & Architecture for the company’s Global Business Services division, put it: our most important customer is the buying public. “We believe we have only one boss – the consumer. He or she can fire us any day.”

Toyota Canada CIO Hao Tien is focussing most of his energy these days on the firm’s CustomerOne Vision, which aims to provide the car-buying public with “perfect” products and “perfect” services, leading to the “perfect” ownership experience.

If the world’s leading household consumer products maker and the world’s leading car manufacturer are intent on using their IT departments to really enhance their relationships with external customers, there’s got to be a lesson in it for the rest of us.

Of course no one is suggesting that we shortchange our internal customers in order to give external customers the royal treatment.

The trick is to do a great job at both. P&G’s way of doing this is by outsourcing as much of the commodity IT work as possible, and then focussing its inhouse IT on innovation and value creation.

There’s yet another “customer” that CIOs must provide great support for these days: outside business partners.

As Steven John, CIO of H.B. Fuller, put it, business operations are shifting from a firm-centric focus to a network-centric focus, and competencies are no longer limited to what firms have inside their organizations.

“One firm acting alone cannot deliver the required value to customers,” he said. We’re moving toward a world of “CIOs without borders”.

With so many different customers to satisfy, it’s no wonder that today’s CIOs are bent on finding innovative ways to become better service providers.

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