IT dictators in an age of marketing democracy


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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.

Republished with author's permission from original post.

Scott Brinker
Scott Brinker is the president & CTO of ion interactive, a leading provider of post-click marketing software and services. He writes the Conversion Science column on Search Engine Land and frequently speaks at industry events such as SMX, Pubcon and Search Insider Summit. He chairs the marketing track at the Semantic Technology Conference. He also writes a blog on marketing technology, Chief Marketing Technologist.


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