Melding of IT, Marketing Operations Raises Questions, Opportunities

Don Tennant
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In a post last week about how marketing organizations are driving tech spending, I raised the issue of shadow IT and the question, given this tech spending trend, of whether the shadow is the marketing organization or the IT organization. All of this begs any number of other questions, but I see two as paramount: What is the impact of this trend on the corporate reporting structure for IT professionals? And what does this mean for job candidates entering the IT field?

My earlier post stemmed from a recent interview with Chris Vennitti, vice president, contract staffing services at the HireStrategy subsidiary of Addison Group, a Chicago-based staffing and recruitment firm that specializes in IT. In addressing these additional questions in that interview, I drilled down on a trend Vennitti had discussed regarding IT pros increasingly being embedded in marketing organizations. I asked Vennitti what the typical reporting structure is in these cases—that is, whether these IT pros report up through marketing or IT. He said it varies, but in any case, the CMO and CTO are working hand-in-hand:

A lot of times, say, in a product-based firm, the product managers on the IT side may report up to the chief marketing officer—we see a lot of that. There are organizations where they keep it separate, but in any case, the CMO and CTO are working together, building the strategy, holding joint meetings. This whole new dichotomy between the two is really where the agile methodology was born—you need to be able to change an application or a website or a design or an idea on a moment’s notice. That’s because people with a business sense are working within these meetings, and if it makes more business sense to change something on the fly to drive more revenue or get more traffic to your site, then those types of ideas need to be adopted quickly. The agile methodology, in my mind, really came about because of the mix of marketing and IT.

I mentioned to Vennitti that I’ve heard it suggested that it might make sense for the CIO or CTO to report to the CMO, so I asked him if there are cases in which that’s the most sensible structure. He said that his group does indeed see cases like that:

It’s a very sensible structure as long as it’s the right type of firm doing that. The types of firms that are doing that are those Web-based, product-based firms delivering, say, a mobile application to the market—anything that’s based on the structured and unstructured data that’s sitting out in the universe, like Big Data. Any firm that’s driving revenue through a Web presence and social media—it makes sense for those folks to report up to the CMO, so they get the best bang for their buck on the business side. It’s just a different world than it used to be.

I noted that in my experience, IT organizations tend to be very male-dominated, whereas marketing organizations tend to have a much stronger, sometimes even dominant, female presence. In that context, I asked Vennitti if he had seen any indication that the increasing focus of marketing teams on technology is attracting more women into the IT profession. He was clearly disinclined to frame this focus in terms of gender:

We don’t see that stereotype in the marketplace—we find it to be very equal on both sides. Everybody in IT, and everybody in marketing, has had to become sort of like a chameleon. So IT and marketing have adapted, and are each attracting all kinds of individuals. For instance, your IT developers from back in the day, who used to just sit and code 24/7, and wouldn’t interact—they’re now having to get up out of their chairs and interact with the business folks. And the marketing folks who wouldn’t look at IT in the past are now having to get up and work hand-in-hand in requirements-gathering sessions to figure out what this website or mobile app needs to be. It’s broken down the barriers, and that stereotype. It’s a lot more equal than it used to be.

Still, it seems to me that marketing’s increasing focus on technology could well open up opportunities for women to advance more rapidly or higher in the IT profession than they might otherwise advance. But when I ran that by Vennitti, he again steered clear of the gender issue:

Again, I don’t think it’s just for women—I think it’s opening up opportunities for anyone who has that business mind and savvy. I see a lot of folks on the marketing side who are male and female, very high up; the design team in IT, they’re male and female, equally exceptional designers. It’s opening up a lot of doors for people who wouldn’t necessarily be attracted to that type of work—it expands their horizons, and sometimes opens that up to things they didn’t know they liked. A lot of folks who got into IT wanted to be that head-down programmer or Web developer. But once you give them the opportunity to broaden their horizons, and when they start working with the business minds, and doing requirements gathering for new-generation websites and applications, and working with marketing, a lot of them really tap into something they didn’t think they had in them. It’s opened up a lot of opportunities for people—even people who have come in over the last few years, who are looking for a certain type of position. We’ll do career coaching with them, whether it’s marketing folks or IT folks—we’ll try to bring them into the fold of bridging the gap between marketing and IT. We’ll explain how the skill sets of each group can be used in the other group. That’s the type of candidate that our clients are looking for in the marketplace.

A contributing writer on IT management and career topics with IT Business Edge since 2009, Don Tennant began his technology journalism career in 1990 in Hong Kong, where he served as editor of the Hong Kong edition of Computerworld. After returning to the U.S. in 2000, he became Editor in Chief of the U.S. edition of Computerworld, and later assumed the editorial directorship of Computerworld and InfoWorld. Don was presented with the 2007 Timothy White Award for Editorial Integrity by American Business Media, and he is a recipient of the Jesse H. Neal National Business Journalism Award for editorial excellence in news coverage. Follow him on Twitter @dontennant.

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Aug 6, 2015 11:24 AM Simon Daniels Simon Daniels  says:
I think in respect of the question regarding the CIO/CTO reporting to the CMO that it also very much comes down to the individuals concerned. I know plenty of very talented CMOs who would make terrible line managers for someone in a technical role, in which case the roles would be better as peers. As a boss of mine once said, there's no such thing as the ideal organisation, just the ideal way of organising a collection of people. Reply

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