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CIOs are refocusing their staffs on customer-centric IT

Julia King | June 2, 2015
CIOs are giving their teams new marching orders to turn their attention from internal matters to external customers, who have ultra-high expectations.

Another huge change was redefining the word customer as it applied to IT.

"There was this very traditional idea that IT was a service provider and the customer was everyone else inside Pulte," Drouin says. "Today, we don't talk about IT and the business. We talk about IT as part of the business--as ingrained and as tightly woven as any other function, and contributing to business strategy. Our customers are [the company's] end customers."

Aiming to Please

More than a few CIOs make the point that precisely defining the word customer is a critical first step toward customer-centric IT. "We make a big point of defining the word customer. A customer is the same in IT as it is for the rest of the business. A customer buys cars, buys services and buys parts," says Barry Cohen, CIO at Asbury Automotive Group, a $5.9 billion automotive retailer with 82 dealerships. "We don't even say 'internal customer.' In fact, we make a big point of saying IT is part of the business and not like an island off by itself. These are small but important nuances because we're trying to build a culture where everybody is thinking the same way."

Asbury's IT infrastructure is made up mainly of automotive-specific systems and software developed and provided by third parties. The company's 39-person IT group is focused on managing the service providers and handling field engineering and support at dealerships. (See "Automotive Retailer Drives Into the Cloud.")

For now, IT staffers don't work directly with people who are shopping for cars but with employees in the dealerships and in other departments who work directly with customers.

The IT team is focused on taking some of the hassle out of the car-buying experience. "If you've bought a car, you know that you can spend an entire day in the dealership, so we're working on customer-facing things like digital signatures and removing some of the paperwork in that process," Cohen explains.

Cohen's team has also spent a good deal of time wiring dealerships with Wi-Fi access points so customers can have access to the Internet and social media.

Cohen himself travels to each of the company's dealerships at least twice a year and also has IT staffers work in the field at the company's stores and dealerships. "We walk into a store and meet the parts people and the accounting people. We make ourselves very visible," he says.

One of the surprising things Cohen and his team have learned at the dealerships is that, although they do have store hours, they have no set closing time. "I'd always ask what time they go home and they always said 'When the last customer leaves.' So, my IT staff is really focused on that now," he says. "We don't have hours that we are open or closed. It's when our customer is there."

 

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