Customers waiting in line.
PHOTO: Svitlana

The mandate was crystal clear for chief information officers in late winter and early spring of 2020: keep employees working, and do your part in keeping employees and their families safe.

Yousuf Khan, former CIO of Automation Anywhere, shared with CMSWire back in March his responsibilities as CIO then were more critical than ever before. “My highest priority is to do whatever myself and my team can do to protect our employees and their families,” Khan said.

It’s 18 months later. What’s on the priority list now for CIOs? A lot still, of course. Secure and speedy connections, workplace information access and other “nuts and bolts” workplace duties still fall on the CIO’s shoulders as remote work remains the norm.

Customer Experiences Increasing Role for CIOs

However, CIOs’ roles are expanding beyond traditional IT duties, including customer experience, according to some industry reports. Some CIOs said they are taking on customer experience over employee experience, even, and customer experience technology is climbing up the priority list in terms of investments this year, according to a report from IDG.

Improving customer experience (57%), bolstering cybersecurity protections (57%), increasing operational efficiency (56%) and transformation of existing business processes (56%) are among the top-increasing priorities for CIOs. Further, 81% of all respondents confirmed they implemented new technology to enable better customer experiences and interactions, according to IDG researchers.

“Over the past year, CIOs have been able to further improve digital customer experiences, but these experiences have also become more complex,” Cynthia Stoddard, senior vice president and chief information officer at Adobe, said in an Adobe CIO priorities report. “Moving forward, CIOs need to think about the integrated tools and frameworks necessary to help their organizations effectively capture customer data, convert that data into valuable insights, and utilize those insights to shape a personalized and enhanced customer experience.”

About 97% of CIOs told Adobe researchers they are as focused on customer experience as before the COVID-19 pandemic, if not more so, despite all the new responsibilities on their shoulders. Another 95% strongly agree that partnering with the CMO improves their organization’s customer experience.

Related Article: How CIOs Define Innovative Customer Experience

Collaboration With Customer Experience Teams

“As a CIO, I see myself as a critical partner to the CX teams in navigating through these challenges,” said AJ Sunder, CIO at RFPIO. “Customer preferences are constantly evolving, so part of my job in collaboration with the CX team is to assess these changing preferences and evolve accordingly. By delivering the right solution at the right time, working together with the CX team allows us to deliver the ultimate customer experience.”

The ever-changing landscape of IT has thrust the CIO front-and-center in the CX process, Sunder added. As a result of this constant state of change and proliferation of tools and technologies, CX teams are faced with navigating the increasingly complex landscape of choices. “Choosing the right solutions, assessing the risks and ensuring the different technologies all play well together is a never-ending challenge,” Sunder said.

'Experience-First Networking'

Sharon Mandell, CIO of Juniper Networks, said her teams are focused on "experience-first networking,” building products to make deploying and operating networks simple. “But we know that journey doesn’t begin and end with the product itself,” Mandell said. “We have to be easy to do business with at every step from learning about the product, to facilitating the actual purchase and then to maintaining the customer’s positive experience with our support and services organization post-sale.”

Mandell said that as CIO, she’s very much focused on all these stages. However, her teams also believe “you can’t be on the outside what you aren’t on the inside,” so she’s equally as focused on simplifying and unifying the employee experience.

Related Article: CIOs Step Up to the Role of Change Leader

CIO and Marketing Dynamics

Sunder said he supports the CX process through his involvement in a variety of stages. The type of partnership between him and CX teams ranges from consulting and assisting in selecting the right tools, implementing and integrating those tools, and implementing complex business process automation, he added.

“For example, I work with the team to integrate tools for CRM, billing, marcom, help desk and CX platforms, and also help them automate the flow of data between the systems as well as general business processes,” Sunder said. “Ultimately, this has been vital in delivering great experience to our customers.”

Mandell said her IT teams and marketing work very closely together, particularly around choosing and implementing enterprise applications to partnering on data strategy and integration. “Customer experience involves every function,” she said, “and I see IT as providing the connective tissue between them.”

Digital Acceleration and Partner Experiences

What else is keeping CIOs like Sunder and Mandell busy? Aside from having a strong focus on customer experience, he’s also focused on digital acceleration. Even a young organization like RFPIO that delivers "born in the cloud" solutions, and operates primarily in the cloud can find itself falling behind and becoming a "legacy" brand if it does not move at the speed of digital transformation, Sunder said. “A CIO's role has become critical,” he said, “in keeping us moving at the pace we need to move.”

Mandell said she is also very focused on the partner experience and customer engagement. And employee experience is never off the radar. “With the imminent return to the office,” she said, “we’re also looking at the next generation employee and office experience, which is likely to be more hybrid than pre-pandemic.”