IT may not traditionally rank at the top of the list when you think about customer-facing departments throughout the business. But perhaps it should. Enterprise IT has never been as focused on the customer experience as it is today — and its importance is only growing.

The second annual “State of IT” report even reveals that 75% of tech leaders say IT is currently in the midst of the biggest historical shift of its role, becoming more ingrained with the business and playing a fundamental role in enabling customer-centric data and processes.

Previously, the IT department was considered a supporting player. In the modern business era, that's far from the truth. Many companies view the IT department as leaders in innovation, and the modern IT working is constantly striving for ways the entire company can do things smarter, faster, and more efficient. Savvy business leaders are tapping into this departmental shift, and tapping IT to deliver competitive advantages as frequently as they do their top marketing teams.

It's a smart move. As our devices (and by extension, our lives) become more and more connected, high-performing IT departments must move to the front of the customer experience. What good are marketing promises or personalized customer service interactions without the right technology to make them a reality?

Is IT headed into a new era driven primarily by customer expectations? Eighty-one percent of tech leaders think so. [Click to tweet this stat]


IT Plays a Fundamental Role in Customer Experience


While IT is usually behind the scenes of the customer experience, its partnership with business units throughout the company is critical to helping them achieve their goals. In fact, 79% of IT leaders believe they are the primary enabler of customer experience initiatives across the business. Without IT as their backbone, other departments could fall flat on powering crucial customer experience initiatives altogether.

Whereas IT previously served as a cost center that focused primarily on “lights on” projects, they are becoming more integrated with the business, so much so that lines between IT and other business units are blurring. Deeper than traditional relationships between departments, 77% of IT leaders believe they now act as an extension/partner of business units rather than as a separate function. The question is — can IT help marketing, sales, and service teams deliver on their customer-centric initiatives?


IT Must Align with Business Units to Meet Customer Expectations


Addressing the needs of other departments relies, of course, on alignment. IT must be in a position to understand the priorities across all departments. Conversely, each department must understand all the many items on the IT department's plate. As the department's role has expanded to include innovating and powering the customer experience, this has not eliminated the need to also “keep the lights on,” as was the traditional role of IT. Alignment requires CIOs and IT leaders to prioritize rigorously, as well as communicate these priorities clearly throughout the entire company.

IT’s switch from “order takers” to service brokerages means increased project flow — which IT teams aren’t always able to deliver on. In fact, over half (56%) of all customer-facing business initiatives go unfulfilled.

To improve, IT is doubling down on alignment across the organization. Sixty-seven percent of IT teams even say improving their collaboration with other lines of business is one of their highest priorities, second only to improving security policies and practices.

The trouble is, only 44% of high-performing IT teams (and 11% of underperformers) excel at aligning strategic priorities across business units, which is not enough to meet the needs of fast-paced teams — especially as customer expectations continue to grow. In fact, 77% of business buyers say tech has significantly changed their company’s expectations of how companies should interact with them. Further, 75% of consumers agree they expect companies to provide a consistent experience wherever they engage with them (e.g., website, social media, mobile, in person).

Think about the technology that is powering changes in the customer experience. Chatbots powered by artificial intelligence enable customers to have a seamless experience with your brand in the messaging apps they use in their daily lives to talk to friends and family. The Internet of Things means that devices are connected, which opens the door wide open for predictive service opportunities. Imagine a world where your devices alerted the service department that they would be in need of service — before you had even noticed that they were broken. It sounds futuristic, but these kinds of customer service interactions are happening right now, and expectations for the modern customer experience are rising rapidly as a result. No customer service department can implement this technology on its own; it's up to the IT department to make this level of innovation a reality.


IT Leaders Make It a Priority to Provide a Single Customer View


Customers don’t care how many business units you have within your organization or whether or not your IT team has the capacity to meet their growing demands. They only see one organization, and they want all of their interactions to be consistent.

So IT can't afford to lag behind. Already, 61% of IT leaders say providing a single view of the customer is a high priority over the next 12–18 months. Of those, high-performing teams are 3.2x more likely than underperformers to rate this as a critical priority.

The results of a single view of the customer reverberate throughout the entire organization. With a 360-degree view of each customer across the company, each department is prepared to deliver on a modern customer experience. Customer service is able to provide more personalized, seamless support. Sales is able to identify opportunities for cross-selling and up-selling based on each customer's history. Marketing is able to deliver the right message to the right customer at the right time.

It’s more important than ever for IT leaders to prioritize alignment with their internal business partners to put customers at the heart of every business decision they make and create the ultimate connected experience.

To better understand IT’s changing role across the business, download Salesforce’s second annual “State of IT” research report.