IT dictators in an age of marketing democracy

Caron Carlson, editor of FierceCIO, just posted Letting Marketing Handle Its IT, Part 2, continuing the discussion started last week. (See my post on governance vs. management in marketing technology.)

Caron highlights some of the comments left by readers to part 1 and draws her conclusion in the last two paragraphs of this new editorial:

A comment by CIO Christine W. sums it up well. In her company, she writes, all technologies require her approval before they are installed. “No amount of revenue generated by Marketing is worth putting our company’s or our clients’ data at risk,” she writes, “and allowing technology silos within the company would only add an additional layer of complexity and cost.”

It is easy to see why the marketing department wants to make its own decision regarding its IT (just as it is easy to see why PR, HR, finance and sales would want the same). It is also easy, however, to envision the day when these experts in their own fields say, wait a minute, we need to get back to focusing on what we do best and leave the technology to those who do IT best.

The added emphasis is mine. If this represents the collective worldview of corporate IT — and FierceCIO probably has a better sense of their audience than I do — then the gap between marketing and IT (and, frankly, between reality and IT) is bigger than I thought.

Here’s my reply, reprinted here (with a bonus photo):

Caron — thanks again for encouraging this discussion. It’s crucial to have this dialogue, even if it’s not an easy one. I appreciate many of your points. However, in the spirit of reaching a better understanding of our positions, allow me to respectfully push back on a couple.

Christine’s view that “no amount of revenue” is worth putting data at risk — which is what she believes would happen if she didn’t personally approve all technologies used anywhere in the company? — is, I think, endemic of this dilemma. I’ll acknowledge that there is non-zero risk with making technology decisions more distributed. But can we also agree that not all risks are equal?

For instance, your customers’ payment details (credit cards, account balances, etc.) are in a different risk category than, say, your social media management software configuration. Modern governance should be able to treat these differently without imperiling one or smothering the other.

When it comes to business risk, ask yourself this: in the past 30 years, how many companies have gone out of business because of a breach with their data? Now, in contrast, over that same 30 year time period, how many companies have gone out of business because they didn’t adapt to changing markets, didn’t keep up with their audience, or were outmaneuvered by more nimble competitors? That’s the real risk at stake here.

It can be a little too easy to dismiss “no amount of revenue” when your mission (“keep the data safe”) isn’t directly tied to revenue. The CMO, whose performance metrics are now increasingly tied to revenue (thanks to the accountability of digital marketing), increasingly has a different view. Certainly the CEO, whose job is ultimately about balancing risk and revenue, writ large, does.

a dictator from a previous era

Again, that’s not to say that keeping data safe isn’t an important mission. It is. However, it must be balanced with other missions — particularly the meta-mission of any corporation, which is to generate revenue and profit. Having one person control all technology, top-down, regardless of its risk category, just doesn’t seem like a balanced approach coming into the second decade of the 21st century. It’s like trying to be a dictator in an age of global democracy. Technology is becoming too ubiquitous for that strategy to be stable.

Speaking of rebellion, the concern that if marketing goes free, so will HR, finance, sales, etc., may be well-founded. However, I don’t think these departments are equal in the amount of technology-driven disruptive innovation that they are experiencing today. As one metric to attempt to quantify the difference, consider the number of digital marketing software start-ups launched in the past 10 years — thousands upon thousands — versus the dozens in HR or finance. There’s an order of magnitude difference here, which — combined with the CMO’s new accountability — is why IT is seeing this technology uprising much more from marketing than any other department.

One last point with regard to Christine’s comment about “an additional layer of complexity and cost.” It shouldn’t be IT’s job to dictate how marketing spends its budget. If marketing wants to invest money in technologies that IT considers redundant, that should be marketing’s prerogative — as long as marketing is delivering its ROI. Because, no offense, what IT might consider “redundant” may have more subtle differences in marketing than IT can appreciate.

Get directly in your inbox!

Subscribe to my newsletter to get the latest insights on martech as soon as they hit the wire. I usually publish an article every week or two — aiming for quality over quantity.

This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.

5 thoughts on “IT dictators in an age of marketing democracy”

  1. Nicely argued Scott, As an IT Leader I can agree with some of these points.
    Although I believe that you have demonstrated that there is a vast disconnect between marketing and IT that reflects as a failure on this organizations leadership.
    I agree that the CIO cannot, and should not, be the gate keeping dictator. General Motors had accountants telling engineers & designers how to build cars for decades – we know how that turned out.
    One failure in IT in this scenario? to borrow a term that has become popular since the gulf war, IT should be embedded in marketing. Not to dictate, but to be as deeply knowledgeable about marketing’s needs and requirements as possible. And to be able to proactively look at where investment can be reduced in possible shared services supporting the tools marketing chooses.
    And secondly – Governance. This organization depicted here seems to have none.
    A governance committee should be the place where investments in tools and the corresponding enterprise architecture are debated and discussed.
    Should Marketing invest millions in video content delivery networks when training already has? Probably not. Should marketing invest and duplicate millions on high availability database engines by one vendor when that architecture already exists with another? Again – I think not.
    As you state – marketing knows what it wants to achieve, and what its own goals are. And IT should be right beside them saying; ‘when you buy that tool, we already have database X and other service Y, so you won’t need to purchase those separately’
    In short – IT needs to be right there saying ‘How can I help?’

  2. Elliot — your vision of how IT and marketing should collaborate is music to my ears.
    There can be lots of productive discussion around the particulars of embedded teams and the rules of governance, and different organizations will (and should) draw those lines differently depending on their particular strategies and organizational structure.
    But I think your view represents a much better framework in which for IT and marketing to collaborate than the view summarized by the recent FierceCIO editorial. Copernicus compared to Ptolemy.
    I agree wholeheartedly that IT can deliver tremendous value in that model — such as your example with CDNs.
    Thanks for contributing to the discussion!

  3. Too often I see this debate poised as the classic zero-sum game when I believe much of the drama can be avoided by clarifying roles and responsibilities. Management frameworks (e.g. PMP, ITIL) provide mechanisms for designating roles. ARCI (aka RACI) allows participants to designate who is accountable, responsible, consulted and informed. Certainly IT should remain accountable for infrastructure services, but perhaps it should cede control of line of business apps to the functional departments while still being responsible for technical aspects including: data, security, support and business continuity. I think there is enough work for everyone and a partnership is more likely to succeed than a dictatorship. Thanks for the great post!

  4. Well said!
    Most of the time we’re a long ways away from the Pareto optimal frontier — we can implement creative solutions that serve multiple interests without inherently having to trade them off against each other.

  5. I have to admit I really like Christine W. response to controlling everything that installed in her company. It is typical of most corporation and government entities.
    As an entrepreneur I don’t view most many of companies as competitors simply because of the controlling management styles exhibited by companies that on paper look like a competitor. They don’t really compete because they don’t understand or use technology like my startup, they carry the massive weight of bureaucracy on their backs.
    Scott you are doing an admirable job of championing the role of a marketing technologist, but there are many dinosaurs that won’t evolve and will be replaced by startups that have better business models, quicker and use technology to define markets.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *