The strained, dysfunctional relationship between CIOs and marketers can be overcome, in part by rallying around the customer. After all, we're in an age that requires IT and business people to put aside their differences in order to bring business technologies to bear that will win, serve and retain customers.
At least this is the key finding in a new report by Forrester Research. "The age of the customer places new demands on organizations, requiring changes to how they develop, market, sell and deliver products and service," the report says. "IT and business teams frequently inhibit successful digital experience execution by failing to work cooperatively."
Forrester relates how a consumer packaged goods company became mired in the IT-business conflict, and in so doing lost focus on delivering a connected customer experience. Tired of waiting for IT approval, the digital marketing team took a go-it-alone mentality and bought a software-as-a-service app for content management, ignoring a sizable investment already made in a legacy Web content management system controlled by IT.
By doing an end-run-around IT, business units don't realize that IT will not be in a position to support the business technology when it breaks or requires customization. Even worse, the Forrester report says, rogue business technology "leads to an inconsistent digital experience delivery over the long term, when technology management professionals actively manage some digital customer experience applications but not others."
[Related: Are CIOs Destined to Work for the CMO?]
Forrester offers five ways IT and business can work together and avoid such scenarios:
- For starters, CIOs must widen their agenda from internal operations to include business technology -- that is, technology that touches the company's customer. This means coming up with innovative ways to work more closely with the business side than ever before.
Farm Credit Services of America, for instance, created a building with open areas and breakout rooms complete with human-sized cardboard cutouts of customers and then filled the building with cross-role teams.
- Next, Forrester advises companies to have liaisons to grease the wheels of communication between IT and business units. To be fair, many companies already have such employees, often called business analysts, who have an acumen for both business and technology.It takes a special individual to move between these very different worlds.
- Forrester's third tip takes liaisons to the next level: "create formal, hybrid-skills groups, or digital centers of excellence, which draw on skills and expertise from IT, application development, digital strategy, digital marketing, communications, customer support, and even project management."
- In addition to the common ground of the customer experience, IT and business units can rally around data and analytics. For business units, there's gold in them thar hills of customer data. That is, they can improve tactical processes, such as personalizing the digital customer experience, and make better strategic marketing decisions if they only knew more about their customers.
IT can be the data miners that dig through the various data silos -- CRM, ERP, Web content systems, to name a few -- and find the nuggets that business units covet. By doing so, business units will quickly learn to appreciate what IT can do for them, and IT can become a true partner to the business side.
- Lastly, Forrester suggests IT look at ways to overcome its biggest weakness in the eyes of the business side: slow response. There's a reason business units bypass IT; in an ultra-competitive digital-mobile-social environment where fickle customers are armed with instant information, companies are racing to get to them first. It's critical to be nimble in a fast-moving digital world, and IT traditionally hasn't been able to keep up.
If CIOs need to add to their agenda to include business technology, while still maintaining internal operations, IT could be overwhelmed and even slower to respond to business needs. That's why Forrester suggest CIOs improve the speed of digital marketing by selectively outsourcing.
"In the age of the customer, there's no room for intracompany turf wars, competing agendas and distrust among those who should be allies, especially in the symbiotic roles across technology management and the business," the Forrester report says.
Tom Kaneshige covers Apple, BYOD and Consumerization of IT for CIO.com. Follow Tom on Twitter @kaneshige. Follow everything from CIO.com on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn. Email Tom at email@example.com