Q&A Part One: Forrester's John Rakowski Talks About the Age of the Customer
October 28, 2014
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In Part One of APMdigest's exclusive interview, John Rakowski, Forrester Analyst & Advisor Serving Infrastructure & Operations Professionals, discusses the concept of the Age of the Customer, and where Application Performance Management (APM) fits in.

APM: What are your areas of concentration?

JR: I cover the whole area of monitoring, including infrastructure monitoring, Application Performance Management (APM), mobile APM, and I also cover IT operations analytics (ITOA). I'm also focused on emerging areas of monitoring, such as is end-user experience management or end-user behavior monitoring.

APM: What does Forrester mean by the "Age of the Customer"?

JR: The "Age of the Customer" is the notion that we have reached a point in which our customers have a lot of power in regards to the choices they make – decisions they make whether to buy or consume services from an organization.

This power has come about through technology innovation. For example, mobile innovation gives a lot of power at your customer's fingertips. They can search for reviews about an organization, the products and services the organization provides, and understand whether they should engage with the organization. If the customer sees negative reviews, they can decide to take their business elsewhere.

Technology innovation also means it is very easy for customers to switch between different service providers – to switch to a competitor if they are not receiving the right level of customer experience. Customer experience means whether the products or services provided meet the need, and are easy-to-use, and whether it is an enjoyable interaction with the organization.

APM: When do you think this new "Age of the Customer" started? What triggered it?

JR: What triggered it is the rapid pace of technology innovation from about 2007 onwards, with the advent of the first real smartphone. The announcement of Apple's iPhone back in 2007 – that is when we saw this age come about. It is when technology changed the traditional business to customer engagement model from in-person or over the phone to being digital engagement via applications and software.

APM: How do companies need to deal with this? What are the first steps?

JR: An organization must understand that technology-based or technology-fueled business services are what's critical to their complete success, the commercial success of the company. And when we talk about the importance of technology, we need to understand that we have two agendas when it comes to technology.

We have the IT agenda, which is really about serving internal IT to employees, and this includes technology such as finance systems and other types of services. But technology is also about engaging the external customer and delighting them. So we also need to make sure we are focusing on business technology, what we at Forrester call the BT agenda, which is technology systems and processes used to win, serve and retain customers. Organizations have to balance both the BT agenda and the IT agenda.

In infrastructure operations that holds true as well, to make sure that you are helping your business with the BT agenda. But also making sure you are covering the existing IT agenda.

APM: Are most companies getting this or does it require a totally new way of thinking?

JR: We see signs that some organizations are getting this. Some companies are engaging their customers with mobile applications to enhance the experience.

Some organizations are a bit further behind. But I think there is a general acceptance that we have to focus on the customer. Forrester calls it being "customer obsessed". Obsessed may seem like a strong word. You may have heard of companies being "customer centric". But what we find at Forrester is most organizations that use the notion of customer centric are just paying it lip service. We really make a strong call here, that you have to become customer obsessed. You need to make sure you are delighting and serving the needs of your customers. That is what is going to make or break your organization's success.

APM: Your latest report seems to show that IT departments are increasingly hindering success, over the past couple years.

JR: Yes, that is true. If you look at I&O (infrastructure and operations), the stats show that traditional IT departments are hindering success. Traditional IT is very process oriented. It is not about speed, it is about control. In the Age of the Customer what is required is agility. But as well as just having fast releases, it is about making sure that you are safeguarding quality as well.

Many IT departments are too focused on the bits and bytes, and not focused enough on understanding the business value of the services which they provide. That is why there is so much dissatisfaction there. At Forrester we help those IT organizations to transform and move forward. Actually, we refer to those organizations as "Technology Management" rather than IT. It is about the management of technology-based services. You are a Technology Management professional.

APM: How much of this is about communication? Does IT have to engage with the business side, with the users of the technology?

JR: It is definitely about engagement. It is about collaboration with the business. Making sure that IT is not only involved in the last step, when the new IT service or application comes into production. Technology Management professionals need to be involved from the early phases in the process. Working with marketing to understand what the mobile strategy is to get users engaged externally with mobile apps. You need to be working at the early points here.

Rather than about collaboration, it is about Technology Management professionals being involved in co-creation – working with marketing to help them understand how technology can be used to engage and delight external customers.

APM: In terms of practicality, it means meetings, communicating, keeping each other the loop, that sort of thing?

JR: Yes, it is about increasing the number of times that you talk to your fellow colleagues. Not keeping yourself in isolation. But also get involved. Find opportunities. Find out what your organization's digital business strategy is, and get involved in that. Add more value to those activities. That is key.

So that starts off with making sure you're talking to your marketing professionals. Talking to application developers. Understanding what they are working on. Far too often in many organizations, I&O acts in a silo, and that is just not possible anymore. We cannot be siloed away from the rest of the business. IT is part of the business, and we need to understand that and be having regular conversations with our business coworkers, and make sure we are involved in activity.

APM: Which technologies do you recommend to support this approach?

JR: There are a variety of technologies that support this approach. One of the technologies we can definitely talk about here is Application Performance Management (APM). If we say the technology is central to business success both internally and externally, applications are fueling interactions with customers and also enhancing workforce productivity, then you need a good APM solution which is able to display information to different audiences – not just development, not just IT operations, but people like marketing. You need to be able to show information about an application's performance and how that impacts revenue and business performance. APM is a central tool here.

APM: A good APM tool is one that can speak to different types of stakeholders?

JR: Definitely. If you are looking at good APM capabilities, there are a number that we can talk about here.

One is simplicity, making sure that your solution is not complex to use, because it is about fast ROI, when it comes to APM or any monitoring solution.

A good APM solution also needs to be able to query data very easily, and turn that data into information very rapidly to make it easy to ask questions of that data in order to gain insight.

What I am talking about here is analytics, but also being able to present that data in an easy-to-consume format. So easy dashboard creation is a must. You shouldn't have to need a developer to help you create a business-centric dashboard, or any dashboard, even a application development centric dashboard. They should be easy to create. That is a core feature of a good APM solution.

Also it is also about enabling collaboration. The solution should make it easy to collaborate with various teams. For example, you pick up an issue as an IT operations professional. Rather than having to send that information in an email, you should be able to collaborate within the tool itself to be able to communicate with application developers.

Also you need to be able to communicate with line of business people as well, so if there is an application issue, then you will be able to talk very rapidly to your product managers who are managing the delivery of the application externally.

Read Part Two of APMdigest's interview with Forrester's John Rakowski

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