“Why Marketing needs closer ties to IT” is the title of an article published by Adele K. Sweetwood in December in the prestigious Harvard Business Review. Ms Sweetwood is Senior Vice President of Global Marketing and Shared Services at SAS. In other words, for Marketing and IT alike, she knows what she’s talking about. Her article is of interest because it fits into the dynamic of corporate digital transformation. This digital revolution, which has been under way for a number of years already, is picking up ever-greater speed as technological progress remorselessly continues to gather pace. This reality has forced companies to think again about how their business processes work… and that includes how to nurture inter-departmental co-operation. And nowhere is that more relevant than between Marketing and IT.
So, for those of you who haven’t been fortunate enough to read the Harvard Business Review articles, here’s a summary of the arguments put forward by Ms Sweetwood advocating better co-operation between corporate Marketing and IT departments.
A company’s success is built on the combined strength of the various teams it comprises; and today, we’ll focus specifically on the IT team. In a world where Marketing is in a state of constant change, marketers have now become dependent on IT to provide expertise for the supplied technologies; and perhaps even more importantly, to deliver a road map which explains where these technologies will take the company and its offerings (with significant integration issues along the way), and how to get the best out of increasingly sophisticated tools.
In the past, Marketing teams were obliged to develop their own tools and databases, or buy software without really asking themselves whether they had the skills to maintain these systems. This was probably due to the fact that IT was seen as an impediment to the agility the Marketing department needed, failing to react sufficiently quickly to technical issues and requests.
Sweetwood explains that at SAS, Marketing learned to see the IT team as a partner, not an obstacle. They were able to redefine mutual relationships, expectations and responsibilities between the two departments. After all, IT needs to have a business orientation before it can decide which directions to take and set clear goals. And Marketing, for its part, needs IT for all issues relating to technology and the integration and implementation of expert technical solutions, be they database updating and maintenance work, improving the reliability of IT systems, and so on.
As in any relationship, this will only work if both parties make an effort, invest time and communicate clearly. IT needs to understand Marketing’s needs if it is to put forward solutions which genuinely meet its technical expectations. This relationship really needs to be as fluid as possible to ensure it can cope with changes in customer approach, constantly evolving customer engagement channels and a proliferation of Marketing data. Such a partnership can also lead to new ideas and opportunities. The communication between Marketing and IT must therefore be regular, frank and transparent.
Setting a common goal
What do Marketing and IT have in common? Technology, integration, processes, modernisation, data… but most importantly, Marketing and IT alike are keen to show their value within the company. They also want to improve customer experience. Without a genuine relationship, there’s no way of knowing that such shared goals exist.
Indeed, Sweetwood sees the modern Marketing department as depending entirely on data and analytical tools to accomplish its objectives. Consequently, Marketing needs ever-increasing levels of support from technical experts in collecting and/or creating customer data, and ensuring its integrity. Without high-quality data, Marketing would be unable to conduct effective campaigns, regardless of how sophisticated the tools it uses are. And all too often, Marketing teams don’t contain the necessary technical skills to maintain these systems. That was the position SAS found itself in. Consequently, they decided to apply the most logical strategy: make IT into a Marketing partner. They gave the partnership a name: “Emerging IT”.
Collaborating on the Digital Road Map
Sweetwood noted that, having set up this internal partnership, the IT team became more focused on satisfying external customers. This caused it to adopt a more strategic attitude towards customers. Consequently, it became more involved in Marketing discussions and planning. At SAS, IT managers now attend Marketing meetings. This has made communication much more efficient.
Berni Mobley, SAS’s Senior Vice President of IT, has been very enthusiastic about the opportunity to become a genuine Marketing partner. She sees this partnership as providing a chance for her team to go beyond the usual scope of an IT department and be more closely involved in business vision and goals, and to work together to decide what value needs to be added from both a business and technical point of view. By attending Marketing meetings, IT is now able to allocate resources more proactively and suggest new technologies to assist the Marketing team in achieving its goals more rapidly.
Building bridges between Marketing and IT
Later in her article, Sweetwood goes on to explain how SAS managed this Marketing/IT collaboration. Berni Mobley, her counterpart in the IT department, created a specific Integration Analyst position to provide a link between Marketing and IT, giving the Marketing team access to the latest available technologies to fulfil its mission. The Marketing team was involved in the recruitment process to ensure the new analyst was able to act as a link between the two departments.
This new Integration Analyst position has been beneficial to IT and Marketing alike. It has given the technical team a better understanding of business issues, and acted as a communication channel between the two departments, enabling IT to provide Marketing with better solutions.
The relationship has been a highly synergistic one. Like Marketing, IT is seen mainly as an expenditure item rather than a source of revenue. By establishing this partnership, however, both departments were able to demonstrate their contribution to added value for the the company’s customers.
Unifying the company’s data vision
Sweetwood explains that at SAS, analytics, reporting and data visualisation enabled Marketing to work in a more integrated way with the sales team and add more value. This led them to create an efficient data analysis portal, a dashboard-like system which linked all the company’s IT systems and provided a unified view of its data. This significantly assisted mutual understanding and operational results. None of this, however, would have been possible without the support of IT.
Implementing a genuinely meaningful partnership between Marketing and IT within a company takes time. It won’t start delivering results overnight. You’ll need to be patient. The transition involved in getting two such initially different cultures to talk to one another isn’t always easy. But Sweetwood believes the effort really is worth it.