The “Back Office” Paradox

An attitude to technology that really concerns me is people describing IT as “Back Office”.

Now, there is nothing wrong with being in the Back or Front – or Middle – Office: vital tasks are done there. There is, though, an unconscious – or even conscious – assumption that being in the Back Office has nothing to do with customers. Two points about this:

First, modern global companies are totally dependent, as never before, on the running of highly integrated processes and systems that make companies function 24×7 around the World.   Its essential that call centres resolve customer problems, the supply chain works efficiently, the bills get paid and – most importantly – the revenues come in.

If people must use the term “Back Office” – I personally prefer to call them “Support Services” – they should recognise how important these people and functions are. Without them, the place simply would not work. What is vital is that these core support processes are done efficiently, economically and to the right quality – and, of course, that they continuously improve.

Secondly, IT is pretty much central to customer service these days. Many companies’ websites are an important – sometimes their most important – selling channel. Last year, in British Airways, we sold over a quarter of our tickets online though ba.com worldwide – and significantly more than that in the UK.

IT now provides all sorts of services for customers: we checked-in over 10 million customers on-line, for instance, and a similar number used the self service kiosks at the airport. Online is fundamental to the BA Executive Club too.  IT puts our customers in control and there are no queues online. It is fundamental and integral part of the customer selling and servicing proposition.

So let’s recognise that modern global companies are complex and highly-evolved organisms that require all parts to operate together in harmony. Let’s not relegate IT or any othe function to  “Back Office” in our thinking. Each component of the business needs to be optimised and improved, and simplified as far as possible for the company’s product or service to be delivered to customers.

About paulcoby
I am CIO at the John Lewis Partnership in the UK. I was Chair of SITA - the airline solutions company owned by the Air Transport Community - for 11 years. I am also on the Boards of Clydesdale and Yorkshire Bank and Pets at Home. Previously I was Head of BA Services and for 10 years CIO at British Airways. I am interested in Roman and Military History. The views expressed are entirely my own not my employers.

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