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Sun 8 Nov 2009 04:00 AM

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Service utopia

Vineet Chhatwal, chief operating officer for the Consulting Office explains why integrated service delivery (ISD) should be a top priority for the forward-planning CIO.

I am sure a lot of us have experienced the pleasures of interacting with a “dedicated relationship manager” of a bank you have been dealing with for years (in my case a very well established multinational). It all seems fine till the subject stays on him/her trying to sell the “product du jour” but falls apart, the moment you ask for services from another department. Something as simple as, can you get my mailing address changed for my savings account? Typical response – “Sir, that is a different department, please call customer service they will direct you?” God forbid, if you need to visit the branch.

A different scenario, which I have recently experienced was a short term visa application for my in-laws. I used to dread this due to the counters one had to run around to for getting the simplest of the tasks done. But I was in for a pleasant surprise. Gone are the long benches in front of the counters, no more waiting for the visa to drop in your mail. You take a token, breeze through the process over two counters and exit smiling with a visa (or a reject decision) in your hand in not more than 15 minutes. This turnaround is nothing short of outstanding.

These and many other similar experiences have firmed up my belief that the answer to seamless, integrated and consistent customer experience is not in technology. My focus is on the fundamental question – What approach can an organisation(s) take to deliver on the integrated service delivery promise?

It is logical to look around at success stories and see what they did differently. Governments in countries like Singapore and Dubai have long since worked on continually integrating the service delivery. Singapore even went up to the extent of announcing a “no wrong door” policy. This implies that as a customer, I don’t have to care where or who delivers the service, I only judge its quality by the outcome. This is a tall promise to deliver on.

There are two fundamental views that an organisation needs to take. First, take an outside-in view. Start with the outcomes that a customer desires or expects. The customer’s expectation may be expressed in terms of nature of service, how it is delivered, costs of obtaining the service, delivery channel and so on. This should be followed with a full review of the services that are required to fulfill this expectation.

Second, take an inside-out view. What does the organisation now need to change to meet the customer expectation? This change can be very scary for both the management and operational staff, as it fundamentally questions the traditional (read silo) ways of working. Integrated Service Delivery has to be firmly embedded as the highest priority on their strategic map. This means a clear statement from the senior most leadership both to internal and external stakeholders.

Further, organisational leaders need to inspire their resources through creative incentive structures that not only reward individual process efficiency but lay more emphasis on the outcomes as assessed by the customer. This would rapidly shift the focus of the functionally minded resources towards a more lateral and collaborative thinking.

So where does our beloved CIO feature in all this? Well, very strongly I would reckon. We have established that it is not the technology that breaks the project but it surely is a big enabler. A CIO can truly position him/herself as a politically neutral leader to assist the CEO/Board in driving this change. An effective CIO should be a natural choice for this task; after all they naturally gravitate towards lateral thinking and always have direct internal customers. Simply stated, a service integration initiative can be a career defining event in a CIO’s professional lifecycle. The key challenge is – will they be able to cross the mental barrier from being the of managers of server farms to transformation leaders?

And trust me, ISD is not a utopia, I have experienced it!The views expressed are those of the author and not that of The Consulting Office.

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