IT Needs to Play as Advisor & Solutionary, not a Controller.
IT has always gone through this dilemma of "customers is always right" vs. "rational approach in designing a solution." If IT always see this as two conflicting forces pulling in opposite directions, you are most likely to get caught and always fall short of expectations. So what’s the right attitude in the face of such customer dilemma?
Listen and have a good discussion with customers. With the emerging IT consumerization trend, no longer are customers willing to let technical people control what they want. So the right attitude for IT is: Listen, have good discussions about what they want, and then look at solutions that satisfy them as possible as you can, not what could work. However, the client is the client but they are not always right. It goes deep to the roots of problem solving, the customer is always right when they articulate a problem they need to solve, a need or a necessity. They start to be less right when they start to jump to the conclusion that: "to solve my problem I need THIS and THAT, done in that way". In this situation, you need to help them understand both the benefits and consequences of their decision. Given this context, the decision is theirs to make. In most of the cases, the customers tell IT what they want and how they want to use it and leave the rest to the technical experts.
IT needs to play as SOLUTIONARY. As long as customers are able to express their need - and IT needs to help them to do so - IT should turn on the ‘debugging mindset’ to do a root cause analysis. Discover what is at the heart of the problem. Get the customer to focus on the root cause and get away from a preconceived solution if you believe that the proposed solution is not what is best for the company or the customer. In many cases, the customer does not really understand the real cause. Once they understand the core problem, then they are able to let go of what they thought would be the best and only answer. This is the CIO’s chance to slowly move the customer to a solution that will benefit the customer, the company and the overall direction of IT. You are planting the seed as the ‘solutions person.’ Pretty soon people bring you their problems without wasting the time and energy to solve the problems. This is key to the IT being an integral part of moving a company forward.
Show and tell. The investment is required to build a model / prototype they can grasp in an agile modeling era, in addition to the starting investment required to support their idea, to what IT has been prototyping these trendy solutions for them as an alternative, and it can really open up the lines of communications on what their requirements may really be. And usually when the customer becomes invested in a prototype, communications open regarding this approach, and it is far lower of TCO drain than managing a "right now" idea over its lifecycle. When you do not provide the wanted solution, you get negative PR right away. However, creating the prototype to show and tell, and visits to prove what is the best for their usage, can provide IT higher level of engagement, and reduces risk on the engagements with customers on solutions.
IT has to work towards building better credibility and influencing, to be impacted for the customers to choose what is best for them. Digital technology trends are offering customers so many self-service capabilities; they feel they need IT less than before. And in many organizations, there is no right fusion between business & IT. Often times what IT thinks as the most logical solution isn't perceived by business in the same way as IT think. Or businesses often try to play and build pseudo-IT team that is very detrimental to the growth of the IT organization, and they may start to adopt this train of thought to support their business model. Thus, IT has to play a role, not as a controller, but as an advisor and solutionary, think and work with empathy, to build better credibility and influence on solving business problems more proactively and intellectually.
They say "the customer is always right" because - you are supposed to listen to the customer and satisfy them. If customers are satisfied, they will be really loyal and promote you...and they will be right!