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Client Focus | The Empty Chair
Brian Klingbeil, EVP, Technology and Strategy
Tuesday, November 07, 2017

Jeff Bezos insists that in every Amazon meeting there is an empty chair. This chair is the “most important seat in the room” because it is the chair occupied by the client, so that every meeting is conducted as if the client were genuinely present. Every discussion, every decision, every action is taken in full view of the client and the client’s view is sought at all stages. Establishing this laser focus ensures that Amazon puts the client front and center of their business in all decisions.

Amazon is the archetype of a service-focused company and so this laser focus on the client makes perfect sense. But does it apply to an internal IT function or an IT service provider? For many years, there has been tension between consumers of IT services and the providers, and much talk of trying to align the two. It is an oft-repeated joke that IT would be so much easier without the users. But this arcane view needs to change in a world where technology is not just something that is aligned to a business but something that is entirely integral, that is infused into the services that most companies offer.

A company in Nebraska builds and sells irrigation systems across the world. They used to create the mechanisms and rely on the farmers to check the soil, adjust the water flow and open and close the water sources. They provided the technology that aligned with the end user requirement. Their current systems are networked and include sensors that can assess the state of the soil, obtain data feeds on expected rainfall and deliver the precise amount of water required accurately and efficiently without any intervention from the farmers. Their technology has become infused into the operational process rather than being an addendum.

This shift in emphasis requires a change in the attitude of the service providers. No longer is it sufficient to establish a relationship that is hedged around a contract designed to protect both parties against failure. If these systems fail now, crops may fail and farmers may be economically damaged. This infusion of technology into core products demands a far more service-oriented relationship.

As technology becomes more integrated and critical to so many industries, old models of client engagement are no longer suitable. Technology is complex and the amount of choice nearly overwhelming. Vendors pushing a certain technology or solution because of an internal focus or motivation is a dangerous game. Long term this is never the answer as clients have choice and will talk with their feet or their wallet. 

IT service providers must now recognize that their role is to meet the client on their journey, wherever that may be, and assist them in not just determining the most appropriate execution venues for their applications, but also in building a long-term evolution plan to optimize them. This includes financial optimization, even if it is to the (short-term) detriment of the provider. It is time for service providers to come of age and return control to the client, and work with their clients to create a solution that ensures technology enables and accelerates the business in their chosen direction and doesn’t slow the momentum by trying to drag the technology back to the service provider’s preferred choice.

To achieve this, most service providers will have to radically re-engineer their business models, building compensation plans that allow the outcome of an engagement to positively enhance the client’s business-first and structuring contracts that depend not on avoiding failure but on building value.  and create solutions that truly meet the needs of their clients.

A service provider’s approach must be predicated on the idea of being a genuine ally to clients, meeting them wherever they are on their journey and working closely to identify the destination that works best for them.  The only concern must be the success of the client’s business and rewarding staff when they become part of that client success.

And, yes, in every meeting room we have a representation of the client and the question is always asked: What would the client think?

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