The Loyal Opposition

You’re at a client workshop, everyone around the table, everyone aligning and card-sorting and so on. Then you’re out in the hallway looking for coffee, and the IT guy pulls you aside and, sotto voce, says, “Well, we’re perfectly aligned except on the part about what they want to do.”

Or how many software-as-a-service vendors know that a pitch that ends with “no IT involvement necessary” means an easy sale?

I’ve been on both sides of the equation, and it’s just a fact of life at many organizations that IT and marketing departments come from different mindsets and usually have very different goals and objectives. That makes it difficult to work together when you’re actively thwarting each other’s shot at a year-end bonus.

What it comes down to is a matter of speed versus control. Marketing is about speed to market, about being responsive to the market shifts, thinking in terms of campaign cycles, and doing experiments. On the flip side, IT is generally about reducing the number of systems, formalizing processes, reigning in rogue initiatives, and reducing operational costs over long time periods. So how can we make this into a workable system?

Much has been written (and many hands wrung) about aligning IT and the business, and there are plenty of big consultancies with balanced scorecards and what not, with entire practices around building alignment. IT, as it tends to do, has even developed industry frameworks for governance that are supposed to align themselves with the business. And still marketers grumble.

No matter what your approach, the first step is recognizing your differences, recognize they want to innovate too, and that it’s an ongoing conversation. Here are some suggestions for how to get along and achieve goals:

  1. Alignment doesn’t come in an email. Documents are awesome, but they are poor proxies for shared understandings and continual refinement. No “quarterly review” will substitute for regular conversation. Don’t be afraid to share dreams and frustrations – you’re building relationships and trust here.
  2. You may need to sharpen your elbows. In the interests of efficiency, most major brands are trying to consolidate down to a common marketing platform, usually controlled by IT. Too often, the choice comes down to “best of breed” providers, based on strong IT requirements and a vague understanding of marketing priorities. Make sure your requirements are heard, but more important, ensure that IT chooses approaches and vendors that value flexibility of user experience, reuse, open APIs, and rapid development.
  3. Roadmaps are not owned by either organization. I’ve seen roadmaps from both marketing and IT that don’t include the other. A true roadmap ties the two together – as well as external and budget drivers – into one, shared, understandable long-term plan for building IT capabilities. But roadmaps can’t contain all the crazy apps, Twitter campaigns, and rapid reaction you’ll need. Make sure everyone understands that to avoid the “it ain’t on the roadmap” syndrome later.
  4. Ensure you have joint innovation programs. Nothing will endear the marketing department to the IT department more than setting aside some of your budget along with IT to run experiments. They get to play with off-menu cool stuff; you get to experience new ways to reach customers. And at the end, you can both make a case for bigger expenditures. Bring interesting vendors in, or platforms like Hunch or Foursquare, for discussions with both groups. Consider internal venture capital groups, or other well-flogged innovation approaches, but make sure IT has a seat and a voice at the table.
  5. Help them make a case for building services and APIs. The more flexible your marketing platform, the faster you will be able to react to new devices, new content partners, new features and functionality than building APIs and services. It’s not as easy as you may read, but the payoff is huge – IT gets to control the rate of change behind the service, and it frees you up to find interesting things to do with it.

Remember, getting the most out of IT involves more conversation than documents and more shared exploration than throwing stuff back and forth over the wall. With a bit of effort and ice-breaking (and maybe some drinks), it could turn into a valuable partnership for change rather than a drag on your efforts.

Related reading

Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.