Customer relationship management (CRM) software has become the eighth most important technology priority for CIOs in 2012, according to a survey by analyst group Gartner.
The rise in importance of CRM reflects an increasing emphasis on improving the "customer experience" as competition intensifies for shrinking IT budgets in the current economic climate, and companies look to exploit social media for commercial benefit.
"The focus on the customer is increasingly important for business leaders," said Jim Davies, research director at Gartner.
"Effective leaders use technology to strengthen the customer experience regardless of the economic environment, and they see customers as the key factor in helping their business deliver growth and operational efficiency in 2012. They also understand that a new strategy is needed to embrace social and media trends.
"In 2012, CRM executives are faced with the challenge of taking ‘social' more seriously – not as ‘just another channel'. but as a whole new way of doing business," added Ed Thompson, vice-president and distinguished analyst at Gartner.
Worldwide CRM software revenue reached $12bn (£7.5bn) in 2011, a 13.5 per cent increase from 2010, and it is forecast to grow by seven per cent in 2012. A growing proportion of this revenue is coming from software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud computing, according to Gartner.
In 2011, SaaS accounted for 32 per cent of the CRM software market and is expected to grow by a further 16 per cent in 2012.
"We recommend organisations view 2012 as a year to revisit their CRM strategy. The potentially disruptive impact of cloud, big data, social and mobile cannot be overlooked," said Davies.