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Dell IT finds overlap between internal and external customer demands

The more information technology is embedded into products the business sells, the more CIOs must minister to both internal and external customers. "The lines between internal and external customers are blurred," said Adriana "Andi" Karaboutis, global CIO at Dell. That's not a situation Karaboutis has shied away from. During her time at Dell, she has found ways to extend the tools her team built for internal customers to be of use to the company's external ones as well -- and vice versa. It's a strategy that will no doubt continue to serve her well when she leaves Dell to become executive vice president of technology and business solutions at Biogen Idec, effective September 24.

Karaboutis sat down with SearchCIO's Senior News Writer Nicole Laskowski at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium and provided specific examples of how the tools and technology solutions for one customer base can ultimately influence the tools and technology solutions for the other.

One of the things we've been hearing at this year's MIT Sloan Symposium is this need for CIOs to serve two customer bases -- to serve the internal customer and the external customer. I'm wondering if you can talk about parallels you're seeing between those two customer bases.

Adriana "Andi" Karaboutis: The lines are actually blurred because, first off, we always say the end customer -- the consumer of our products -- is at the center of everything. We want to be able to target-market to them. We want to be able to sell to them. We want to be able to get feedback on whether they like our products and really put them at the center.

When you think of the employees -- they're the same. By the way, employees are consumers as well. So you can't lose sight of that. We have 100,000 of them at Dell. But it's the same thing. They want to be productive; they want to have good tools; they want to have insights similar to or akin to what your end consumer would have. So the lines are blurred, but we do try to develop for both.

I'll give you an example. We have an application called the 'QRL [Quick Resource Locator]' application that reads the QR codes on our equipment. We originally developed that for our engineers or our technicians internally to be able to do a quick scan and know the content of a product.

It's a great internal application, but then we realized, our external customers really wanted that too so that they can scan and see what their own machine has or some products they were thinking of buying might have. And so there was an internal application that ended up externally.

Conversely, we've developed applications -- Marketing Analytics Workbench would be one -- [for our external] customers to, again, be able to serve them best. And we've developed that into a self-service portal for our own internal marketers to be able to use -- without IT -- to develop what we call 'propensity models.'

So, it's kind of a gray area. It starts coming together as far as how you're serving, and there are some programs and projects that are completely distinct -- purely for internal versus external customers -- and those we just have to prioritize.

Watch the second part of this two-part video interview where Karaboutis explains just how she prioritizes goals to ensure she's meeting the needs of both internal and external customers.

Let us know what you think of the story; email Nicole Laskowski, senior news writer, or find her on Twitter @TT_Nicole.

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How do you manage the blurring line between internal and external customers?