Marketing and IT: One sure way to annoy IT people

This week I learnt an important lesson. Apparently one way to stir up a room full of IT people is to say that traditionally IT has been a blocker to innovation. To be honest, I’m a little surprised I got out of that room unscathed.

While at Oracle Openworld in San Francisco this week, I attended a retail breakout session where three retailers from three different continents discussed a wide range of challenges they are currently facing.

Craig Demerit the COO and CIO, of the US fashion retailer Tillys said his company had merged its e-commerce team with marketing in order to focus on the customer.

I find this topic very interesting – and you can read my news story here – so when it came to the Q&A, being a cynical Brit I put up my hand to ask a follow up question and I led with “It was interesting to hear what you’re doing, because it has been common for IT to be a blocker rather than an enabler…” Queue frosty laughter from a couple of people in the room and stares from the rest.

But Demerit agreed with me, saying the company works faster by being sat side by side, and the company no longer has nine months of bureaucracy talking about whether it should develop something.

After the session ended, a gentleman in the audience turned to me with a smile and said: “So do you not like IT people?” Awkward – I work for Computer Weekly!

When he found out I was a journalist he understood my risqué question a little more and we started talking. I said I thought aligning the marketing and IT department seemed like a good answer to the disconnect between the two, where IT often says “no” because marketing has no idea of the ramifications of what they’re asking for.

This IT guy then said he would hate to work with marketing people – so maybe it’s not a trend we’re going to see widespread then?

But what we did agree on is that retail IT is one of the most innovative industries out there, comparing to markets like financials services or public sector which are bogged down under regulations, retailers are freer to enthusiastically say “yes” to a lot more. And looking at companies like Tillys, and our side of the pond, Marks and Spencer or John Lewis, these companies are definitely transforming their marketplace and the act of shopping from the ground up.