The leveraging of technology by savvy marketing departments has been one of the key corporate story lines of the last few years. All of the major technology trends (mobile, social, cloud, big data) are enablers and drivers of marketing strategies. Whether it’s advertising, brand management, ecommerce, customer service or market intelligence, the role of the CMO is heavily intertwined with these new technologies. With all of this convergence of marketing and technology, a tight relationship between CMO and CIO seems like a natural outcome. However, a trip back in time provides some perspective on why this relationship can often be strained and under-leveraged.
Many large corporate information technology (IT) departments have their roots in a much different era. Many of these organizations got their start in the 1960’s at a time when most systems were IBM mainframes doing batch processing. Initially, most applications focused on operational or administrative functions. Classic early examples are payroll, general ledger and accounts payable. It’s important to note that most early IT departments had only internal customers. In fact, a common name for these departments was Management Information Systems (MIS). Eventually, external customers were “touched” by corporate technology through printed bills and statements, a one-way interaction.
The 1980’s saw the emergence of two technologies that allowed external customers to directly interface with corporate systems. The first, ATM’s, in addition to cash withdrawal, allowed customers to do some rudimentary account inquiries. Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems offered a variety of customer service, account management and transaction capabilities via a touch-tone phone. They were a crude forerunner of the web and smart phone based apps available today. Yet despite these new technologies, the major mission of IT groups remained internally focused systems.
The emergence of the Internet in the 1990’s started to shake up the established order. In the past, IT had looked at the Marketing department as an outlier and bit player in technology. They were those quirky folks who annoyingly demanded Apple products to handle their specialized graphics requirements. Suddenly, Marketing departments were playing a strong role in “corporate computing”, looking to set the agenda around web site development, software tools and the selection of hosting providers.
In many firms, this led to a turf battle and classic culture war. Marketing departments looked at IT groups as slow, plodding and uncreative. They saw the IT technology toolset as outdated and inflexible. They saw IT’s processes as cumbersome, bureaucratic and restrictive. IT, in turn, saw Marketing teams as inexperienced, reckless “cowboys”. They believed that their tools and providers were unproven. They saw Marketing moving down a path towards compliance, security and availability issues.
In many firms an uneasy truce developed. In some cases, Marketing and IT resolved their differences and moved forward in partnership on web initiatives. In other cases, Marketing took control of these initiatives, bringing on new external partners, and jettisoning their relationship with corporate IT.
Initially, with many systems have limited customer interactivity and minimal transactional capability, hooks into back end legacy systems were unnecessary. Eventually though, the need to have access to back end systems such as order tracking and inventory management, affirmed the need for better cooperation between IT and Marketing. The explosive ascendancy of smart phone apps and social media created further requirements for cooperation, and more flash points for tension. This new world further highlighted the cultural differences between the groups, with new tools, even faster development cycles, and even greater threats. And the threats were double-edged: Threats of missed competitive opportunities and threats of brand damage from security breeches or service disruptions.
Which brings us to the present. How should forward thinking CIO’s and CMO’s align their organizations and their priorities? What are the benefits of better alignment? What’s the downside to a minimized partnership?
Unsurprisingly, I’m going to suggest that the partnership needs to be strong and supportive. In fact, in many organizations, I believe the CMO will be the most important customer for the technology organization. Many of the classic internal applications such as operational systems are mature and unlikely to provide high ROI from further investments. Customer facing systems utilizing mobile and social media represent fresh ways to build your brand, service your clients and differentiate yourself from your competitors.
So why should CMO’s care about the technology organization and their relationship with the CIO? With SaaS becoming ever more popular and mature, there is a temptation for CMO’s to “go it alone”. This represents short sighted thinking that will ultimately backfire. The sophistication of apps demanded by today’s customer typically requires even greater reliance on the data and transactional capabilities traditionally supported by corporate IT. The need to provide reliable, high-performance access to these capabilities necessitates a strong CIO-CMO partnership. Separately, there is much that IT organizations can offer to Marketing teams in the way of process maturity. They can provide guidance and support in such domains as Quality Assurance, Testing, Vendor Management, Security and Business Continuity.
Here’s the catch. Both organizations will need to recognize each other’s value and also compromise on some historical cultural tendencies. In general, IT organizations will need to speed up their cycle time and reduce their level of bureaucracy. Marketing teams will need to apply more structure and add greater process maturity to their technology related functions. The end result can be an enterprise that moves forward briskly with innovative technology that doesn’t create reputation destroying events.