No matter which vendor’s event you attend these days, the host will inevitably try to impress upon you how important it is to use social media, mobile, analytics, and the cloud (SMAC) to engage with your customers. In many cases, if you removed the vendor logo, you wouldn't be able to tell whose event you were attending.

The scene

On three separate occasions over the past two weeks, I’ve had to engage with companies — well-known global brands — because I had concerns about their services: an automobile manufacturer, a major consumer electronics firm, and one of the world’s largest telcos.

All three use SMAC to engage their customers. However, two providers were unable to respond to my concerns because they couldn’t access my records in their CRM solution or other system of engagement due to a back-end system failure. The third had no technology infrastructure problems and was aware that I wasn’t happy with its services. It responded by offering to send someone out to redo the job, but was smart enough to ensure that its CRM team didn’t call me to get feedback on its service (which it had always done in the past).

It’s more important than ever to serve customers 24x7x365 in the same consistent manner each and every time. When there are outages and situations where they have to redo a job, it’s important that companies first acknowledge that there is a problem, whether it’s in the way the tech infrastructure has been implemented (e.g., a CRM tool outage) or a lack of adherence to best practices when engaging with customers (e.g., skipping customer feedback when you know you messed up).

SMAC isn’t a panacea

Today, an increasing share of companies’ technology budgets go toward SMAC (i.e., systems of engagement), although overall IT budgets are flat. Companies genuinely want to reduce the effort and resources they spend on core ICT infrastructure so that they can focus on new initiatives. However, when you’re trying to invert the pyramid and balance operational expenditures with innovation, you still need to ensure that you have reliable core systems (i.e., systems of record).

Having robust operational analytics can help you recognize the symptoms of the problem. But don’t over-rely on SMAC to slice and dice day-to-day operational issues. Use it for customer-centric innovation, not as a business-as-usual operational tool. That’s mostly a reactive approach — one that forces you to constantly juggle multiple balls. Based on my experience as both a practitioner and an analyst, it’s a never-ending job.

Remember: The whole point of having technology infrastructure and the organizational maturity to follow best practices is to avoid such occurrences in first place. And that’s where you should focus the majority of your effort. You need is a robust technology foundation and the right processes to support your customer engagement initiatives — rather than having robust SMAC systems in place to mask or troubleshoot core ICT issues. Atop this foundation, develop a layer built on SMAC to improve touchpoints with customers, employees, and partners. If you’re using SMAC to cover up problems with aging infrastructure and/or messed-up internal process, you’re getting it completely wrong.

Keeping the lights on shouldn’t be a daily struggle. Stay ahead of the curve by embracing technology that will allow you to automate, optimize, and improve your resiliency. Take American Express as an example: How many times have you called it with a request and it’s refused to help due to tech infrastructure issues? Hardly ever, right? This isn’t by chance! If you have frequent outages, particularly for your customer-facing applications, you need to seriously re-evaluate your tech infrastructure.

Forrester can help

This quarter, Forrester has published three reports on technology trends. The first focuses on the optimization and consolidation of technology infrastructure, the second looks at how to improve your disaster recovery/business continuity landscape, and the third examines developing enterprise capabilities for hybrid cloud orchestration. And we will shortly publish our fourth and final report in this series, on software-defined environments; you can no longer make tech infrastructure decisions without discussing SDEs.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and experiences around this topic.