We’re all familiar with the CIO’s Dilemma: ensuing zero IT problems day-to-day, while delivering the transformational change the business’s digital ambitions demand – simultaneously, with the same resources.

The term has been with us for at least a decade, but we seem no nearer to finding a solution. The understandable temptation is to keep things as simple as possible. Uncovering a problem may mean reprioritising an already stacked roster of projects. If no one’s actually telling us there’s anything wrong, logic says, we can safely assume everything’s OK.

Perhaps this helps explain a rather staggering stat revealed in the survey we conducted for our 2021 CIO Report: almost a third (30%) of respondents told us they make no effort to measure their employees’ experience.

Ignorance may be bliss in some aspects of life, but for a CIO, not being aware of or understanding the user experience is a crucial knowledge gap. And far from minimising or helping to resolve the dilemma, it could actually be contributing to it.

People may be having problems but choosing just to reboot rather than bother the helpdesk. They might not be using, or finding ways round expensive new applications, preferring ‘the old system’ they’d got used to. Some may not even realise there’s a problem and assume ‘that’s just how it is’ – or, worse, conclude ‘it must be me’.

Over time, these seemingly minor technical niggles can become major sources of stress, frustration, annoyance and despondency. The productivity and wellbeing of individuals and teams start to suffer, with knock-on effects on customer service and satisfaction, and ultimately revenue and the bottom line. Suddenly an IT problem is having business-wide impacts, and the Dilemma is front-and-centre again.

So how do we find out what users think and feel about IT? Our CIO Survey reveals two main approaches and suggests many businesses use both. The first is an industry methodology like CSAT or NPS, or an ITSM tool. This is a lot better than nothing, of course, but essentially it just asks, ‘how well did we fix the specific IT problem you reported?’ Being reactive, retrospective and technology-focused, it’s unlikely to offer insights into the wider user experience.

The second is an annual survey. This can be more comprehensive and detailed, but risk users being overwhelmed by its scale and scope, leading to poor response rates and patchy results.

In my view, the key lies in recognising that the user experience is dynamic, not static. Canvassing people’s options should not, therefore, be a single event in response to a specific trigger issue, or as an annual exercise. As CIOs, we need to be asking more frequent, precisely targeted strategic questions and capture people’s experiences over time. And in examining their technical concerns, we can explore wellbeing factors, too. How are you getting on with this new application? What seems to be the problem? Anything we can help with?

In this user-centric approach, we’re looking left and right, not just at the specific IT issue in front of us. Asking people what they think and feel, then being seen to do something about it, helps them feel personally engaged with IT: suddenly they’re part of the solution, not the cause of the problem.

Anecdotally, many businesses don’t measure ROI in terms of how it’s improved the user experience. But as CIOs, it can give us powerful new metrics to add to our business cases. It allows us to spot trends and measure how well projects and solutions are landing. From historical adoption and satisfaction rates, we can start to build predictive data for future projects. Showing what worked well last time informs our rollout this time. And we have evidence to support investment in specific locations, devices, applications, infrastructure and training that will deliver enhanced business processes, while also (we hope) minimising everyday IT issues.  

It’s not a complete solution to the Dilemma. That, too, is dynamic, and will probably always be with us. What’s certain is that a good user experience leads to a good customer experience. And in the end, that’s what really counts.