A company's stakeholders can become their advocates, provided IT staff make up a part of the external customer team, according to Haas School of Business professor, Peter Wilton.
Speaking at the CIO Summit 2010 last week, Wilton said being relevant and unique to customers could be achieved by ensuring IT staff were not hidden away from customers.
"You may have an IT function managing the infrastructure, but anything that's involving an application in your organisation that drives external value for the customer is all embedded in a customer tenure with all functions working towards that objective," Wilton told summit attendees. "In fact, there's no separation."
According to Wilton, key to maintaining relevance is to confront those problems not yet solved by the business or its competitors, with "reframing" projects that would complement the business as usual, sustaining projects often preferred by management and mainstream stakeholders.
"If you want stakeholders to support you, you have to be seen as different from other organisations that they could get the same services from... of course what we're looking at is the hidden or latent or underserved or overlooked needs of stakeholders. Everybody knows the current ones; we expect you to serve the current ones."
Wilton recalled the example of Kodak which, despite years of maintaining market leadership in film, rejected digital photography and ultimately lost significant market share because it had talked to the wrong stakeholder; the professional photographer.
"The problem with reframing stuff is it's on a steeper slope," he said.
While maintaining a balanced portfolio between the two types of projects could be difficult, Wilton told the CIO Summit that it could mean the difference between behavioural, passive commitment and attitudinal, proactive commitment for stakeholders.
"Want to understand the importance of being unique? Compare the difference between Nokia and Apple.
Nokia has ten times the revenue of Apple. Who has the most profit? Apple. How can a company that is one tenth the size of the other make for money? they're unique, with little differentiation which translatEs into higher profits and higher customer loyalty which drives the profits of Apple's business. Apple has very fierce attitudinal commitment."
Wilton said it was also important to challenge the assumptions of both the company and its portfolio among shareholders, in order to redefine the current core competencies and forecast those competencies necessary to the survival and profit of the business in the future.
One solution is to get the company's stakeholders to help form that assessment - something Silicon Valley magnate Applied Materials does over 90 days among its customers and suppliers to ensure it is always relevant. Distinctive competencies would live longer than projects, but wouldn't last forever, Wilton said.
"Put the stakeholder first, look for that balanced portfolio and take on the leadership role to ensure that balance is in place," he said.