IT, Marketing Have Tense Relationship: Deal With It
Tension between IT and the marketing department is inevitable. CIOs must lead, not make excuses, in order to help the business deliver innovative products and services.
A marketing consultant recently called to complain that his client needed a special customer-oriented program done in the next six weeks and that the client's IT department insisted it would take six months. I could sympathize with him. I have been in every possible IT-marketing situation--often several situations at the same time. Finding the right balance between supporting the often-unrealistic timelines of marketing and the often-inflexible timelines of IT has long been a challenge.
In this case, three of Chris Murphy's eight warning signs were flashing red. The IT department was overly concerned about security; it did not have the appropriate computing capacity; and, worst of all, IT and marketing weren't talking. Flashing yellow was the absence of IT in discussions about new product development.
I told the consultant that I suspected marketing was asking for far more than it really needed and that IT was padding the time it would take to roll out the program because of its bad experiences working with the marketing folks. I told him to tell both parties that the six-week/six-month gap was too large to be cleared simply by refining the requirements. Both groups would have to compromise and develop a joint plan.
Furthermore, I told the consultant, he should corner the head of IT and tell that executive that he or she should have taken the lead and proposed developing the joint plan.
Possibly because I was both the CTO and VP of product development at Nielsen Marketing in the early 1990s, I have a unique perspective on the challenges and unique personalities of both IT and marketing organizations. Marketing organizations come in many flavors. We'll address three types here.
Sales driven. These marketing organizations are very difficult for IT because they tend to sell customized solutions to every customer. If you have a sales-driven marketing organization, your only hope is to lay down an enterprise platform that lets you quickly customize solutions.
For example, in 1997 I was involved in a consolidation of logistics companies located in 70 countries. One of the companies had a solid international freight-forwarding system housed in England that could serve as the global platform. It was already installed in several countries, including Singapore and the U.S. Marketing sold a fast delivery service from Singapore to Texas via Los Angeles, with one of the customer requirements being a Web-based tracking system, which of course we didn't have. The head of marketing and I argued heatedly about how to deliver the Web-based tracking system. He wanted to outsource the development to a group he had used before. I insisted that the platform was in place, that as a company we didn't want to outsource the access to our data, and that this project was really quite easy to do.
It got very ugly. To prove my point, I took one programmer and a lot of laptop batteries and on a flight to Singapore from Los Angeles we developed the Web-tracking system. In Singapore we demonstrated the system to the customer and won the contract. I promptly threw away the system we had built in flight and had real programmers build a production version.
Focused on product development. These types of marketing organizations are challenging for IT when they have no cohesive product strategy and elevate every new idea to the highest priority.
One Sunday years ago, when I was working at American Airlines, I was reading the paper when I came across a two-page ad announcing the Citibank AAdvantage card. I happened to live next door to the manager of the AAdvantage system, so I walked over to ask her about it. We met halfway as she was coming to see me about the same ad. She knew absolutely nothing about it. Our company had announced the introduction date widely, customers loved the idea, business management was enthusiastic, and the dates were impossible. It ruined her career at American Airlines.