When was the last time you actually left your office and chatted with some customers? By customers, I don't mean internal users, but rather those old-fashioned, card carrying company clients who really pay the bills at the end of each month. When was the last time you walked a mile in their shoes?

For the emerging IS professional, customercentricity will be the order of the day.

MRP (material requirements planning) and ERP (enterprise resource planning) software allowed organisations to fundamentally re-engineer their production and distribution processes. In much the same way, the Internet is enabling companies to rewrite the rule book on customer service.

With the advent of reliable Internet applications, the focus of information systems and also of the professionals who manage them has switched from internal control to external expansion.

This is why Forrester Research president George Colony coined the expression "The new customer connection" over two years ago. Colony claimed that one of the implications of this unfolding customer-centric Zeitgeist was that companies would begin to require two distinct types of IT manager. The first is the traditional IS professional who is internally focused with a mandate to improve organisational efficiency.

The second and emerging IS professional, generally more senior and more likely to have CIO status, would use information systems and corporate information to enhance and enlarge the organisation.

Evidence of this emergence of client-service-based computing in Australia can be seen in three quarters. The first is the maturing demarcation between the senior CIO function and the traditional MIS function.

The second is the increasing willingness of Australia's largest organisations to engage customer information and sales automation solutions.

Back in 1994, Telstra was one of the first with its toe in the water when it developed CICERO (Complaints into Compliments Enterprise Rollout) based on Vantive's Vantive Support. More recently, United Energy took the plunge when it pioneered the introduction in Australia of Siebel Systems sales force automation software.

These are both instances of classically client driven systems development. Both organisations are former government monopolies thrown into a world of deregulation where their ability to provide adequate levels of customer service will ultimately determine their bottom line performance.

The third area is in the explosion of Internet-based customer applications. Qantas' Frequent Flyer Web site and the ANZ's Home Banking page are both excellent examples of consumer focused customer services applications. Meanwhile, both Cisco Systems and Digital Equipment Corporation have achieved stunning results in their Web-based electronic commerce sites for resellers.

There is a short article on Cisco's setup available at And you can read about Digital's experience by logging into the CIO archive at and searching for an article called Partners Online.

Finally, there is one other very good reason to listen to your customers -- you might learn something about yourself.

In the last four months my company has begun developing new electronic product ideas which offer significant business opportunities if we get it right.

But we can't claim all the credit. In each case, Internet-based technology allowed us to rapidly deploy a customised electronic publishing solution in response to a particular customer's needs. The products we created can now be replicated and tailored to suit the requirements of any of our customers.

In the old days of paper-based magazines that would have been impossible.

It's nothing short of a revolution.

Andrew Birmingham is the CIO of IDG Communications. Why not share your pain with him at

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