IT and marketing: working together for business success

The IT department builds things that scale and last, while marketing wants the next big thing - and needed it yesterday. How can heads of technology work effectively with marketing? Cliff Saran investigates

The IT department builds things that scale and last, while marketing wants the next big thing - and needed it yesterday. How can heads of technology work effectively with marketing? Cliff Saran investigates

Focus on business

Understand the customer

Sharing goals

A view from both sides of the IT and marketing divide

There is a storm brewing in business today. IT is seen by marketing as full of propeller-heads, while marketing types are often viewed as airheads.

The problem is, marketing uses lots of IT, including enterprise systems such as customer relationship management (CRM) and data warehouses. The IT department has been good at providing large-scale projects to support marketing activities, but is unable to keep pace with the relentless speed of change required by ever-changing marketing campaigns, such as targeting consumers with mobile apps for smartphones.

Speaking at a recent Vodafone Global Enterprise conference, Nicholas McQuire, research director for Europe in enterprise mobility at analyst IDC, said customer-facing mobile apps are a priority for many businesses, forcing some marketing departments to hire external app designers to develop products, thereby "flying under the radar of the IT department" and bypassing IT governance.

Jan Peter de Valk, chief information officer (CIO) at DHL, says this is the main barrier between IT and marketing. The time to market, speed of reaction and mentality is the main problem marketing types have with their IT colleagues. "IT tends to be more rigid and serious, but slower," he says.

De Valk believes IT teams can learn from marketing teams, particularly in terms of speed and their pragmatic approach, positive mindset and consultative selling techniques.

Focus on business

Ollie Ross, research manager at IT director group The Corporate IT Forum, says there has been a history of getting IT to communicate and interpret business strategy, with the IT function largely focused on technology.

But she says IT is increasingly working more closely with marketing and breaking down silos due to the rise of multiple customer channels, with "departments coming together to conquer the world of consumerisation".

In fact, consumerisation of technology provides the IT department with a golden opportunity to win friends and influence people by allowing them to use their own devices at work and unblocking access to social media sites, where appropriate.

"IT can seem to drag behind a little, but we have evidence of IT and marketing now working together," Ross says.

The problem may be one of perception, or it may arise from the culture of the organisation. "There is nothing fundamentally different between marketing and IT," says David Chan, director of the Centre for Information Leadership at City University London. "It is about the culture of the organisation. If the departments work together, you shouldn't [have a problem]."

A CIO trying to grab control of everything will never work. "If the culture does not fit, you have to win the trust of the executives. Make sure people are aware of your accountability and what you can add to the equation. It is the nature of relationships between functions and individuals," says Chan.

Understand the customer

Simon Yates, a vice-president in the CIO Group at Forrester Research, recently wrote about the gap between IT and marketing. In his article, he stated: "CMOs [chief marketing officers] realise that technology is a key enabler for any effective marketing programme, but easy access to technologies that do not require IT support perpetuates poor communication and the stereotype of the dysfunctional IT/marketing relationship. CIOs recognise that the definition of their customer is changing from employees on the payroll to anyone that uses technology to interact with the company."

According to Yates, CMOs need to be masters of technology and CIOs need to understand the customer. Innovation in the business must be built on a solid partnership between the CIO and CMO, with shared goals and metrics, a common business language, and deep collaboration.

So how does it work in practice? Forrester Research CIO George Orlo is in the fortunate position of being able to read all the research produced by the analyst firm. He says that since Dwight Griesman joined the company as chief marketing officer, the relationship between marketing and IT has improved.

Orlo recalls that people brought in and used their own IT - as in the concept of shadow IT. "In the beginning there was a lot of in-fighting and people were doing their own thing. But both [departments] recognised this and now 80% of my application portfolio requests come from marketing," he says.

Orlo found there were gaps in the goals and objectives of different teams. "I don't think people have a different understanding of high-level business objectives, but the IT department wants to ensure systems [are reliable], which can take a long time, whereas the marketing department generally wants something done quickly."

One of his website staff had marketing skills, which helped when working with the marketing team.

Sharing goals

Bridging the divide between IT and marketing is not easy. "There is an education process and we have to break down stereotypes," says Griesman, who is trying to improve collaboration between the IT and the marketing team. "I do a hard audit on collaboration skills. For instance, I do not want my team commenting on someone else's code."

Raytheon CIO Wayne Grundy is an example of an IT chief who is working proactively with marketing (see box below). IT plays the security hand - after all, as a defence contractor Raytheon holds extremely sensitive data, so people in the company appreciate security is a primary concern.

But in other organisations, maintaining high security cannot be the only reason for IT and marketing collaborating. Consolidation, rationalisation and making sure there is a single version of the truth are key drivers for IT and marketing to work together. It surely must benefit both departments to ensure that a key customer database is not sitting in the cloud or on a server under someone's desk, but is held in a scalable datacentre where it is backed up and adheres to IT security best practices and regulations.

IT needs to evolve, to separate long-term infrastructure projects such as a new enterprise resource planning (ERP) system, which pays back over multiple years, from quick and dirty applications that cater for a near-term objective. Some call this "IT Lite".

So the IT department needs to recognise that not every application needs to be defined, specified and over-engineered to integrate seamlessly and scale in a corporate IT system. The consumerisation of IT shows that applications can have a much simpler scope and shorter lifespan - perhaps just a few days or weeks of a marketing campaign.


A view from both sides of the IT and marketing divide 


Wayne Grundy, CIO of defence contractor Raytheon, has experienced both sides of the IT and marketing divide. "When I became IT director for a part of BAE Systems, I worked to build bridges between IT and marketing," he says.

Grundy had previously worked in start-ups where it was necessary to get technology up and running quickly, such as putting a web server online, but IT was slowing the business down. "The business may come in on Monday with last-minute demands, but there is a process IT has to go through to define the requirements, specifications and ensure the application doesn't bring the network down or provide security holes," he points out.

As a defence company, Raytheon is well versed in security risks and has developed internal tools to prevent prying eyes from getting hold of information on the military systems it develops. When he first joined the company, Grundy collaborated with marketing on a country-wide roadshow to raise awareness of the risks associated with advanced persistent threats.

He has also been proactive in promoting Raytheon's products. Given the market the company operates in, its network is engineered to protect against constant attacks. "People want to understand the capabilities of our defence products and we've been very successful at fighting off a barrage of state-sponsored hacking," he says.

Marketing is now seeing the benefit of the multi-tiered protection developed internally by the IT department. Grundy recently worked with marketing on a cybercrime conference, where he gave a presentation showing how Raytheon protects its own network. He says he's not sales-oriented and doesn't believe in a hard sell: "I didn't even refer to the fact that we had any products, yet lots of people appeared at our stand afterwards to see if products were available to buy."

He also sees the value of social media in the secure environment of defence. "Our vice-president of communications is visionary and has put forward a case to the board to use Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn for recruitment," Grundy says.

Raytheon believes social media will help to build a workforce of engineers for the future, given that fewer students are taking maths, sciences and physics at school or university. Grundy says one of its CEO's passions is encouraging young people to be interested in science and maths, and the company runs maths competitions on its website to engage young people.

IT is in the game of holding on to information and protecting it, while marketing wants everyone to have access to information.

"The current challenge is the consumerisation of IT," says Grundy. "People are bringing in their own iPhones and iPads. Marketing, PR and business development staff would love to use iPads in their sales-based activities, while the IT people are saying that they need to go through a process to make sure [the devices] are secure. Electronic CRM is another point where IT and marketing have had to work together."

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