CXO

How IT can use unexpected upgrades to please users

Borrow the tools of continuous improvement and surprise upgrades from the consumer space to delight your users.

Image: iStock/olvas

When I think of the consumer brands that I like the most, one of the recurring themes is that the products they sell become more useful the longer I own them. In some cases, this is due to excellent design or functionality, and I'm delighted to find an unnoticed function or helpful design feature after a few months of use. In other cases, the product continues to improve through new software updates.

Garmin, a company that's successfully transitioned from the ubiquitous auto GPS market to the fitness and wearables market, is one of my favorites. Every few weeks my Garmin fitness watch gets an update that adds new functions and improves on existing capabilities. Despite my fitness watch nearing its first birthday— a lifetime in technology products — it is almost an entirely new device from the one I purchased so long ago thanks to increased functionality through software.

Obviously, this can be a double-edged sword. Many companies ship products that aren't ready for launch, and rely on post-purchase updates to correct myriad problems. That's a frustrating experience for consumers as it creates the impression that they paid for a beta project, rather than a finalized device that's improving rather than merely meeting its stated capabilities.

Upgrades can be the easy part

If you think of enterprise IT products as an analog to a consumer product, it's difficult to imagine most IT shops being successful. Many enterprise projects promise a feature set that is drastically reduced over the product launch period, with capabilities removed in the name of making the date. Once the product is launched, it's rarely updated, and left for the unwitting consumer to use, warts and all.

From IT's perspective, unreasonable demands are often combined with an impossible schedule, creating a series of unavoidable compromises. Where IT and a typical consumer product diverge is that most IT products are updated after release. In the worst case, this is to fix glaring bugs and defects. In the best case, it's to add additional features and value to a device that the consumer has already purchased. In the case of an IT product, there may be a few cycles of bug fixing, but when that's complete the organization usually shifts its focus, essentially leaving an obsolete product in the internal market.

Intriguingly, the hard part of most rollouts, be they consumer products or IT initiatives, is the initial creation and deployment. Minor improvements and tweaks that leverage all the initial work can often be low-cost and quickly implemented, effectively extending the value of the large initial investment.

Surprise and delight

Since purchase, my fitness watch has added the ability to track additional activities, from skiing to rowing, and added additional metrics around running and cycling performance, and recovery times. None of these features were widely announced. They were capabilities that were not listed in the initial marketing literature for the watch, creating "free" functionality that was a delightful surprise to discover after a software update. My fitness watch already had an altimeter, GPS, and motion sensor in the device, so adding an activity like skiing or rowing was relatively easy from a technical perspective, but it measurably expanded the market appeal of the device beyond runners and cyclists.

IT has a similar ability to surprise and delight. You likely already possess a huge library of potential features and capabilities in the form of deferred requirements, user suggestions, and help desk tickets. A rudimentary analysis can reveal the most requested functions, or you can get a bit more sophisticated and determine a new capability that leverages the technology you've already built. Could your new sales automation platform be easily extended to marketing? Might that new analytics tool help inform R&D with little more than a new report? Could the collaboration tool you've deployed for external vendors help an internal team with nothing more than some additional logins? If you've never performed this exercise, there are likely dozens of easy ways to surprise and delight your user community by minimally extending the technologies and platforms you've already deployed.

Delivering these new capabilities without fanfare or tedious meetings shows not only that IT is highly capable, but that you understand the needs of the users you serve and can proactively provide them with needed tools. We've long talked about making IT a trusted partner; delivering your own surprise upgrades is certainly a building block in advancing that agenda.

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About Patrick Gray

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

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