4 Ways Infrastructure Will Heighten Customer Experience in our Emerging New World

The world is waiting and wondering. What’s next? How do we rewrite our business playbooks? How do we stay ahead of customer expectations in a world unfolding, rearranging, evolving?

After attending IBM’s Think 2020 digital conference (virtually, of course), I walked away feeling emboldened about the future, particularly after hearing two industry veterans share their views on enterprise infrastructure: Tom Rosamilia is Senior Vice President for IBM Systems and co-leader of IBM’s response team for COVID-19. Ashley Pettit is CIO and Senior Vice President of enterprise technology for State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Companies. You can watch their session, “Leading Through Change and the Critical Role of Infrastructure”, here.

They talked about the role of infrastructure in a time of unprecedented change, which meant expected topics like AI, cloud, APIs, Linux, cybersecurity, and legacy systems.

What pleasantly surprised me, however, was how they connected infrastructure best practices to the customer experience. This is the sandbox I play in as chief customer officer. Ashley’s overarching points included digital transformation enabling “valuable and personalized customer experiences by integrating remarkable technology with remarkable relationships” and how “evolving to serve customers means evolving how we think and work — in technology, process and partnerships.”

We’ve catapulted way beyond IT data and resources being shared across an enterprise. Infrastructure is going to help us serve customers in ways we’ve never seen before. Here are four imperatives to that point.

1.    Resilient, flexible environments adapt to changing customer behavior.

Tracking customer behavior is nothing new. What’s changed is a buyer environment in chaos resulting in bigger carts, massive demand spikes for some retailers, higher than normal call volume, and more mobile and on-demand clients.

Of course, these are today’s trends. Six months from now? Anybody’s guess. Therein lies the lesson. Resilient, flexible environments give us adaptive opportunities.

For example, State Farm began shifting away from patterns of custom software delivery and on-premises in data center solutions to take advantage of more innovative SaaS cloud solutions for faster, simpler and easier customer interactions.

2. Building a new skill set in your workforce is an exciting opportunity.

Some might look at AI and machine learning as a threat to jobs, but I see it as an opportunity to build a new skill set within organizations. State Farm started with prototypes of how to integrate AI and machine learning in property and casualty claims work. They sought to leverage technology to improve efficiency and more seamless CX — a tall order considering the company has more than 100 products, more than 80 million policies and 19,000 agents who are independent contractors.

In the new post-COVID world, State Farm is seeking to meet customer expectations like faster response time and prepare for new ways the company interacts with customers like an increase in digital interactions. Changes like these will require new and different skills.

Ashley pointed out that continuous learning for its workforce is key with more of an outside-in approach working with partners like IBM.

3. An end-to-end customer experience demands soul-searching questions.

Throughout the presentation, I jotted down questions both Tom and Ashley posed within their organizations. Strung together, these make a good checklist by which to elevate the customer experience through infrastructure.

•  How do we approach the mainframe differently? How do we pull it forward?

•  How do we expose APIs on the mainframe to make it easier for us to interact?

•  How do we provide the same rationale in our engineering practices such as building CICD pipelines on the mainframe?

•  What is the next chapter of hybrid multicloud and AI?

•  How can we leverage our greatest strides forward and bring them with us into the future?

4. A growth mindset aligns infrastructure, people and the future.

In his keynote address for Think Digital, IBM CEO Arvind Krishna pointed out that digital transformation has gone from a runway marked by years to mere months. Daunting. But then I remember Ashley’s advice that the best lesson is to get started. She said, “Whether you’ve nailed down the right spot, don’t wait. Having a sense of urgency to enable new capabilities has never been more critical. The outside-in view and challenging ourselves and continuous improvement is our new normal.”

State Farm’s digital transformation journey started five years ago. It is, as Ashley says, more than online channels and access points. It is having a growth mindset by reimagining services, technology, data and culture. This is a great way to look at the future.

Centenarians like IBM (108) and State Farm (98) must prove they can solve new problems with new solutions. It feels good to lean on their experience while also seeing their younger, innovative side putting forth a clear vision for the future. IBM is clearly doing this on the infrastructure side.

What’s next? No one knows. Our only certainty is the vital task of keeping the customer at the center. Doing so means that no matter the change in our world, we will serve the people who choose us and continue to heighten their experience.