Most digital programmes operate with an intelligent customer function (also known as the intelligent client function or client-side team) on their side.

With a strong intelligent customer function (ICF) in place, organisations are more likely to save money, reduce wastage and achieve their proposed outcomes.

However, despite their advantages, there are a number of ways in which they can go wrong.

In this blog post, we will explore why the intelligent customer function is so important, but also understand why they can go wrong.

What is an intelligent customer function?

The intelligent customer function is a small team of technology professionals (including functional consultants, technical consultants and technical/solution architects) with the skills to both procure and manage a contract in partnership with its suppliers.

What makes an Intelligent Customer Function important?

There are 3 key reasons why the intelligent customer function is so important to complex digital transformation programmes.

1) It will help keep suppliers honest

The objectives of tech giants such as Accenture, IBM and Oracle may not align with your objectives as an end client. Subsequently, a key part of the intelligent customer functions’ role is holding the suppliers to account, but also to help them fix things when they need to as well.

2) An ICF will stay on top of assumptions and dependencies

Any proposal that large system integrators make for you will always be caveated with a list of what they call assumptions and dependencies (A&D). The intelligent customer function will deliver the obligations in the A&D section, whilst keeping to the programme’s strict timescales.

3) Manages stakeholders to ensure all activities are fulfilled

The intelligent customer function consults with the business end-users at every stage of the programme. They make sure their voices are heard and reflected in the development of the system, and then also make sure that the end-users are again involved in the testing of the solution.

If you want to learn more about the importance of an intelligent customer function listen to our podcast episode, What is a Client-Side Team?

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Government and IT is “A Recipe For Rip-Offs”

Nevertheless, UK businesses have suffered from a lack of strong intelligent customer function teams. This is most notably seen in the public sector.

For example, a 2010 publication from Parliament, described how the Government’s overreliance on outsourcing has hindered its inability to act as an intelligent customer, which is a “recipe for rip-offs”.

The Government lack an “intelligent customer” function to enable it to engage effectively with external suppliers and stakeholders. Computer Weekly argued that this has created a situation where the “government give contractors the job of telling it what it needs to buy from them.”

Heavy outsourcing over many years has offset the multiplier effect, which has subsequently made the situation worse. With increased outsourcing, it means there is an increased reduction of in-house skills in Government. Thus, whereas outsourcing may have been a choice at first, it is now the only choice.

Not surprisingly, departments will be starting to build their “intelligent customer function” teams from scratch. Therefore, there’s a lot that can go wrong in this process.

Why can the Intelligent Customer Function go wrong?

We have identified 5 reasons why the intelligent customer function can go wrong.

1) An Intelligent Customer Function may lack adequate representation

An intelligent customer function needs representation in all functional areas that an IT programme covers.

If the intelligent customer function doesn’t have adequate representation, the SI will have a free hand. As a result, the programme will find itself accepting everything that their SI delivers, with little resistance.

Consequently, business benefits realisation issues would usually only be picked up months down the line when the SI has gone away – and is no longer accountable for their actions.

2) The Customer Function doesn’t receive outputs from the SI team

It is important to ensure that your client-side team is simply not part of a large blended team alongside the SI, but is structured to receive outputs from the SI team.

Ideally, the client-side team places itself between the end-user and the SI. This is so that any end-user wishes in respect of features of the system, are vetted on technical and functional factors.

This will ensure system integrity and business benefits, and assure what is delivered is fit for purpose.

3) Your client-side team is full of doers

The skills needed in an outstanding client-side professional are different to those building the system. Whilst the latter is a goal-focused role, the former is a preventive one.

Therefore, stuffing your client-site team with doers is a mistake that won’t serve the programme well. Outstanding client-side professionals will have a questioning mind and the ability to spot problems and bottlenecks in advance.

When you outsource your hiring requirements to a black-box shared service, these hiring nuances can be missed. The more ‘difficult’ but well-suited candidates who spot problems, can often wrongly be sifted out in favour of the more ‘obliging’ candidates with a can-do attitude.

You can find out more about the skills required for these two roles in our blog post, Client-Side and Supplier-Side Project Manager – What is the Difference?

4) There is uncurated reporting in the Intelligent Customer Function

Where the Client-side team is toothless, upward management reporting is largely uncurated. This means whatever the SI reports to be the health of the programme is what top management in your organisation will hear. As a result, the SI’s version of ‘how things are going’ is deemed as the cornerstone content. Often, this narrative will be more positive than how things really are.

An intelligent customer function would evaluate with the rigour of the SI’s messages, and act as the sounding board for top management as to the ‘real’ health of the programme.

5) There is a low contribution to the Risk Log

If a centrally managed Risk Log for a programme only captures risks and issues from the SI, with the client-side function not contributing to the list at all, it indicates the passive role they play.

The Risk Log is essential to the management of risk in a programme, so an intelligent customer function would contribute to this. As much as the SI thinks about the obstacles to achieving the goal of Go-Live, the client-side team thinks of risks and issues of its organisation to accept and run the new system.

Want to find out more about the Intelligent Customer Function?

If you want to find out more about the intelligent customer function, listen to our podcast episode, What is a Client-Side Team? (a transcript is available too).

In this episode, Amit Kapoor explores:

  • What a client-side team is.
  • What makes them so important to any complex transformation programme.
  • How you go about building one.
  • What commercial models can be used for engaging client-side teams.

Our new Commercial Matters podcast is for leaders of major transformation programmes looking to confidently tackle niggling supplier relationship issues in their IT programmes.

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