Debilitating IT: Customers first, all else will follow

E RADAR's Will Roebuck questions whether some debilitating IT systems are destroying goodwill with customers

I'm grateful to Philip Virgo, Chairman of the Conservative Party Technology Forum for inspiring this article, to Google for its title (I've nicked one of the company's many corporate objectives) and to Barclays Bank for an unfortunate case study.

My theme and overall question is to what extent does IT and legal compliance damage the relationship between online business and the customer?

For many organisations seem so driven to meet bottom line requirements (always a good thing) through the use of IT that they lose sight of this, their most important business relationship - and the one that drives supply and demand.

Philip wants to see 2013 as a turning point, the year when people and not digital are put first. He makes the point that organisations are forcing customers to go online in their drive towards efficiency and cost cutting  when not everyone has equal status to access online services. To support Philip's argument, UK Digital Champion Martha Lane Fox points out that around 10 per cent of the UK's population can neither read nor write and many people are not credit worthy enough to pay bills online.

So is IT really enabling the digital economy in this respect?

I think not.

Case study

Electronic Payments, online payment, debilitating itCue the story about a Barclays Bank customer who had been with the bank for over 50 years, had never had a mortgage, owned their home outright plus adjoining land, and whose current account went overdrawn by £45 due to a spell in hospital and subsequent convalescence at home.

Barclays sent out its standard two-page letter sent to anyone that goes overdrawn. 'Imperious' in tone with that edge of corporate anonymity used to scold customers like misbehaved children in front of their teacher, the letter was clearly written to meet the bank's compliance requirements. But not only did the letter insult the customer's intelligence, it also let down local branch staff interacting with customers at the coal face. The letter also revealed that senior managers appeared out of touch; a case of a formal compliance-driven business process creating a barrier between business and a so-called 'valued' customer.

These kinds of stories disappoint me. Customers should always come first, with IT enhancing rather than debilitating the business relationship.  This seems to be a particular problem for heavy legacy systems that are process driven rather than customer-enabled. People now want to be treated as individuals and standard processes need to adapt to meet this challenge.

Today, the balance of control through laws and regulations is shifting from traditional to more flexible models. In response, we must therefore look to challenge traditional IT governance frameworks and IT compliance concepts in order to seek out the competitive and collaborative opportunities for organisations, and not just the threats. So, customers first, all else will follow.