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IT productivity shifts from standardization to personalization

Standardizing business processes has led to huge efficiencies for companies. The new IT-enabled productivity is about personalization.

CIOs have staked careers on standardizing. It's accepted that enterprise software systems are now standard fare at companies because the consistent processes they impose on businesses save time. Well, despite all that, the paradigm for IT-enabled productivity is now shifting away from standardization. At some of the world's most successful companies, this paradigm shift is already the new dogma. That much was clear at a recent gathering of business strategists in New York, where hotshot after hotshot talked not about standardizing processes, but about the power of its opposite: personalization

Linda TucciLinda Tucci

Sending the right pitch to the right customer, building the right portal for a particular business partner, dispatching the right piece of data to an employee at the right time -- the talk (from some very fast-talkers) was all about making workflow personal and flexible, rather than mass-produced. The unsettling part of this for CIOs? No one I talked to, or heard speak or overheard at the Chief Strategy Officer Summit in New York seemed satisfied with what corporate IT was doing to make personalization a core tenet of doing business.

Here's the dilemma for Marianne Tappy, vice president of digital strategy and business development for, at the Ford Motor Co., the cradle of mass production. The website is a joint venture between the automotive company and Ford franchise dealers. She develops digital products for the Ford dealers so they too can have a commanding presence on the Web. Those digital products are not just window dressing, but a matter of survival, because in this golden age of Googlized consuming, "I'm going to take this to my manager and see what we can do for you" has become untenable. Karma -- actually, make that, Kelley Blue Book and -- has caught up to the traditional dealership's age-old MO. "If those companies are successful, that threatens our business model certainly, because that would make the whole dealer franchise network irrelevant and force their economics downward," she said. The other problem she lives to solve is figuring out how to sync up the online research consumers do prior to a visit to the dealership, so the salesman doesn’t have to start from scratch -- without running afoul of the various data privacy laws in the world markets where Ford does business, mind you. Asked by someone in the audience how she works with Ford's internal IT organization, she paused.

IT has been very focused on the voice of business and in providing platforms that meet business requirements. That needs to change.

"They -- how shall I say this? -- they want to develop everything but I think they've gotten to the point where they have shown they are not really competitive in bringing all the innovation to the table," she said. Using open source code is another point of contention with internal IT. The upshot is her group uses "best-of-breed" vendors. "We're not a great example" of finding a balance between in-house IT expertise and outside development, she said, because her group is still "trying to navigate" that relationship. "Our mentality is we just move fast and partner with the best companies out there."

At Viacom, "It's a delicate balance working with our CIO," said Allen Duan, vice president of strategy and corporate development. "One of the things he's done really well is identifying the core areas that are mission-critical for us to control and home in on those things," while allowing flexibility in other areas.

Another consideration is that outsourcing all the development "can get expensive," said Shripal Shah, chief strategy officer for the Washington Redskins. He is driving a digital strategy aimed at enriching the TV experience with social media content and "second screen activities" for the home viewer, while incorporating digital content -- including Twitter boards and 100-foot video screens -- into the stadium experience.

The future of IT productivity? The 'Amazonization' of business

"IT has been very focused on the voice of business and in providing platforms that meet business requirements. That needs to change and evolve to heed the voice of the customer," is how an e-commerce executive at 3M put it to me. IT platforms built on a "capability realization model" with known priorities, harmonized requirements and a one-size-fits-all approach (think SAP) must give way to a more flexible IT infrastructure that can serve many different customers and business models. The new challenge is not automating, optimizing and integrating back-end business processes -- or even the front-end processes that take place in a physical venue -- he said. Instead, IT should be building a "social front end to the business" that customers can discover on the Web, YouTube and Facebook, and that can connect them seamlessly to the physical place of commerce.

More CIO Matters columns by Linda Tucci

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A mobile strategy that puts customers first and employees in limbo

A CIOs role through the lens of MIT: Agile rebel or company dishwasher?

The rise of the chief data officer

In India, 3M owns and operates a car spa franchise chock full of the company's after-market automotive products: buffers, cleaners, dent-removers. The aim is to develop an automated Web presence where customers can connect to the car spa, book appointments, designate what they want done and prepay, all online and in a way that feels personal. "The traditional role of IT has been to create a business process for us where all that capability happens at the store level" for the benefit of on-premises employees. "It's a huge difference."

Yes, personalization is one way to put it, he said. But he prefers to think of it as component-based delivery of technology rather than assembled solutions. "If we have one solution and it is the world's best solution, it may still work for only one market." Companies need technology components that can be mixed and matched to serve many markets. Of course, this is just what Amazon figured out when it went from selling books to selling everything.

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