April 2, 2012    /    by

Customer Service is a Priority for Security Pros Too

Several hundred people had gathered for a second morning to hear the results and ask questions regarding the recently completed Gartner study, which covered all aspects of Michigan Governments Information, Communications and Technology (ICT).

   It was a warm Friday morning for March in Michigan, and the Williams Auditorium was packed with government technology supervisors, managers and directors within state government. Several hundred people had gathered for a second morning to hear the results and ask questions regarding the recently completed Gartner study, which covered all aspects of Michigan Government’s Information, Communications and Technology (ICT).

This comprehensive Gartner study took over five months to complete. Their analysis examined people, processes and technology and benchmarked us against other states and the best companies in the world. (Yes – cybersecurity was included in this “As Is, To Be, Gap Analysis.”) The day before, Gartner representatives presented the good, the bad and the ugly regarding the current situation. Now came the part that everyone was anxiously waiting to hear – what did the future hold for Michigan government ICT? What were the new recommendations that would likely change our direction?

  But before Gartner came forward, our leader, Michigan Chief Information Officer (CIO) David Behen, kicked off the morning with a motivational introduction that signaled what was to be the theme of the day. “Our customer service must improve.” Here are some (paraphrased) excerpts from what our CIO told us.

“Tough game last night.” (Michigan State had lost in the ‘Sweet Sixteen’ round of March Madness and everyone moaned.)

“Did anyone remember the question that I left you with yesterday? What was the best customer experience you’ve had in the past month?”

Note: a variety of people in the audience gave customer service examples. Some stories were funny, some inspirational, some not so good. David told a story about his great stay at a hotel in Washington DC, and how they had helped him in many (quite remarkable) ways. They had even sent a dress shirt back to him, when he left it in his room. He was amazed at how they went the extra mile exceeded his expectations. 

David Behen continued, “But the reason I asked you that question for each of you is that our number one organizational issue is improving customer service! Yesterday, we heard a lot of things, but our top priority is better service delivery and being innovative with 21st Century technology solutions that demonstrate business value to our customers.”

Next, I wrote down some of the key phrases that were repeated over the next ten minutes. Here is a brief summary:

-          This study shows that our customers expect more. This process is all about improving customer service.

-          I’m excited (David Behen said) because we can fix several weaknesses with better communication and better alignment with customer needs.

-          We need to share what works beyond our normal boundaries and use technology tools that work best (with local governments, the federal government and other state governments).

-          We need measureable results. We will be metrics driven.

-          We must bring down our legacy application costs – we can do better at replacing old systems. Think about total cost of ownership and system lifecycles.

-          We will listen to our customers more effectively. We will realign to meet clients expectations and citizen-centric opportunities.

-          We need a “can do” and “will do” attitude from each of you. As Governor Snyder says: ”We seek relentless positive action.”

-          Transparency and accountability will be even more central.

-          We need leaders! If you’re not willing to lead by example, perhaps you in the wrong job or wrong organization.

-          Our new organization will have more matrixes – requiring improved, open, honest communication.

-          We need to be enabling, innovative and trusted partners.

-          Cultural change starts with us.

-          We will have one service catalogue which is easy to understand.

-          Decisions will be based on return on investment (ROI) and total cost of ownership (TCO) – with better project management to highlight soft and hard benefits for customers.

-          Procurement processes will be streamlined for better overall value and efficiency.  

I could go on, but I think the list provides a pretty good summary of the overall picture. Key words that kept coming up were customer service, communication, innovation, enabling, sharing, service catalogues and measurable results based on metrics. None of these words were a surprise, but now they had a more specific meaning and detailed projects associated with them. The response could no longer be: how?

What was obvious to everyone from the results was that we were an efficient and technically proficient organization – no surprises in what we were doing. However, were not as effective as we could (or needed to) be due to a lack of customer focus and alignment. Our infrastructure and security benchmark numbers were generally good, but we were not as good at addressing our clients’ expected outcomes and especially two-way communication.

Perhaps you’re wondering, what does any of this have to do with security? How does cyber fit into this equation?

Well… that’s exactly why I’m writing this piece – along with the next two blogs – on this topic. Security is a part of the enterprise and exists to serve customers as well. While security was not specifically called out by CIO Behen, we are a part of this organization. We need to be aligned with the same focus and mindset as the rest of our department. We are a part of almost every government process – and we exist to help achieve the same overall goals as our technology partners.

Bottom line, customer service is a priority for security pros too!

 If customer service is not our priority, our organization will fail. Cyber is not on an island which is separate from any of the topics that our CIO described. Rather, cybersecurity is an integral part every aspect of government ICT – and we sink or swim together. We have a seat at the table, and we are part of the team. 

I know that these are not the words and terms generally used to describe the role of security within government organizations (or any business organization). No doubt, some of you are thinking that this sounds nice, but how does it work out in the “real world?” How can security be customer focused? How can security be enablers of innovation and not the disablers of cloud computing or mobile services or other technologies? What does this look like in practical terms?

These questions will be my focus next time. But for now, it starts with our attitudes. At the end of the morning, I recommitted to providing my colleagues with excellent service – the kind that David Behen experienced at the DC hotel, if possible.  This won’t be easy, but it is essential to improve.

What are your thoughts on how security teams can provide excellent customer service?

{Note: the results of the Gartner study mentioned in this blog will be released to the general public later in April, 2012}