Years ago, when marketing was filled with creative types who spent money but could not point to how that money produced an ROI, the chief information officer, with the CFO’s tacit agreement, could put marketing projects on the back burner. Why prioritize an IT investment that would not yield tangible results? 

But with the rise of Big Data, business analytics, social media, and the ability to track customer responses to marketing’s efforts through the Internet, marketing’s star has risen.  Chief marketing officers in all sorts of companies are demonstrating the direct impact their projects are having on the top line. Consequently, CIOs recognize that they have a big, new customer in town and can no longer ignore marketing’s IT requests.

But CMOs have moved on. Tired of being given the cold shoulder by IT, they’ve started making their own technology decisions, hiring their own resources, and running their own projects.

Should this concern the CFO? If your CMO is producing results by going it alone, and if the marketing organization has the skills to deploy the technology, isn’t that good? Why should technology strategy always originate from IT, anyway? Those techies don’t even know the business!

While understandable, that attitude can create problems for your organization.

For one, your vendor costs are sure to rise. If marketing is buying its own technology, it will not be long before other departments do, too. When everybody is making his own technology decisions, you’ll wind up with one of everything, with duplicate tools and systems and no leverage with your now rapidly multiplying vendors.

Second, most marketing people are less than focused on security. They have customers to contact, campaigns to run, and data to capture. Security concerns? Not so much. But what happens when the cloud vendor that is housing your family data jewels has a security breach? Nothing good.

Third, if marketing freezes out IT, your CIO will wind up being fired or walking out. Neither are positives for you or the rest of the executive committee. It will be hard to find a CIO willing to work for a company that has no respect for IT standards, security, or approval processes.

CIOs are very wary of what I call “the accountability versus ownership paradox.” In their eyes, there are only two types of projects: business successes and IT failures. In other words, when marketing buys its own cloud service, and that service goes down at a critical moment, the IT organization is not well positioned to save the day. It doesn’t know the vendor; it hasn’t negotiated service-level agreements; it does not have the staff dedicated to support the platform. Yet because it’s technology, IT and the CIO are blamed for the failure.

This is the proverbial IT rock-and-a-hard-place situation, and any good CIO candidate will see it from a mile away. So, what should CFOs do when their new rock-star CMOs want to buy and run their own technology?

  1. Support your CIO. Everyone wants to jump on the “We hate IT” bandwagon. Resist the urge. There are good reasons why your IT organization has security standards and approval processes. Encourage your CMO to abide by them. If you believe the standards are so rigorous that they impede speed of delivery, engage the CIO in a dialog about what it would take to lower the bar.
  2. Encourage IT to be consultative. One CIO I spoke to recently said he runs his organization like a consultancy, with practice leaders dedicated to different parts of the business. Instead of taking orders and running projects, his team performs a consultative function. This may be a wonderful new model for IT. Let marketing make its own investment decisions, but encourage it to seek the counsel of IT. Of course, this model relies on IT having a consultative approach, which does not come naturally to many IT leaders. Sit down with your CIO and convince him to lose the defensive stance and become a trusted adviser to the CMO.
  3. Keep the training budget intact. For the IT organization to become trusted advisers to marketing, it needs to understand analytics, software-as-a-service, and consumer technologies. Make sure your CIO has enough money in his training budget to give his people the skills they need to bring value to marketing.
  4. Get the CMO to play nice. Collaboration is a two-way street. While the CIO is busy getting smart about marketing technologies and working on his consultative skills, the CMO should involve IT in marketing-technology discussions as early as possible. She should take a moment to understand why integration, security, and support costs are a critical part of vendor selection, and should foster strong relationships between her own staff and IT.

Technology is expensive, and when everyone goes off and buys his own, the CFO will have a major problem on his or her hands. Just as “money” does not belong solely to the CFO (most executives have budgeting and P&L responsibilities), technology no longer belongs solely to IT. Just how this dynamic plays out in your organization has an awful lot to do with the leadership role you take in managing it.

Martha Heller is president of Heller Search Associates, a CIO and senior IT executive recruiting firm, and a contributing editor to CIO magazine. Her new book, The CIO Paradox, has just been published. Follow Martha on twitter: @marthaheller.

 

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