If there’s one conversation that invariably creates a lot of hand-wringing among the IT professionals I’ve spoken with in recent years, it’s the one that centers on “shadow IT.” Buying and implementing technology independent of the IT organization—a practice that is probably most widely associated with marketing organizations—raises all sorts of hackles among these IT pros, and they’re not afraid to share their thoughts on why it’s a bad idea.
But there’s a fascinating dimension to all of this. Gartner has famously predicted that by 2017, marketing organizations will spend more on technology than IT organizations themselves spend. If that’s the case, it seems to me there’s a question that’s begging to be asked: If it’s marketing that’s driving the tech spending, then who’s the substance, and who’s the shadow?
I recently had the opportunity to discuss the marketing vs. IT topic 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. Vennitti lives and breathes this stuff, so I opened the conversation with the notion that the way things are going these days, you really do have to wonder which is the shadow—the marketing organization or the IT organization. I asked Vennitti for his thoughts on that, and he clearly accepted the legitimacy of the question:
How things have changed over the years, is in the past, IT was the big driver [of technology adoption] in the business. Today it’s the marketing side that’s working with the social media, the Web content, everything out in the universe that pertains to structured and unstructured data. The marketing side is really what’s driving the IT budgets, and everything in IT. So I know exactly what you’re saying—it has switched, it really has. Fifteen or 20 years ago, when IT was evolving, information technology professionals were spending money on trying to get world-class systems and networking—getting everything running and optimized internally. Now, everything is external, which means the business and marketing side—it’s all about customer feedback and the user experience. That’s really where the focus of the budgeting is. So there has been a huge switch.
I asked Vennitti if he finds that IT organizations tend to feel threatened by these marketing teams, or if there tends to be more of a peaceful coexistence. He said there is a peaceful coexistence, but that doesn’t mean IT pros don’t feel threatened:
In the firms we’re working with, folks in marketing are getting into the digital age, while on the IT side, they’re actually getting involved in technology that they didn’t work with in the past. We are seeing an opportunity for IT professionals to develop skill sets they didn’t have before. So if it’s positioned correctly within an organization, and if you have the two teams working together very closely, the IT people are learning so much more about the business and marketing side. They’re learning about user demand and the user experience, and how that drives an organization’s revenue. And then the marketing folks are getting to learn about all this cool technology that they didn’t know about before, and how it can make their jobs easier. Early on, some years ago when we saw this coming about, I think the two groups saw each other somewhat as adversaries. But now they’re working well together—we’re explaining to each group how working with the other will broaden their careers. So I think it’s gotten a lot better lately.
I found it interesting that Addison Group has reportedly seen a spike in IT professionals being embedded in marketing. I asked Vennitti if these are people who are recruited by marketing independent of the IT organization, or in collaboration with the IT organization, or whether they’re more typically people who work in the IT organization that are assigned to marketing. He said it’s a combination of all of those things:
Many of the firms that we’re recruiting for right now are looking for someone who can straddle the two—someone who is willing to take a look into the marketing side—getting more involved in social media, the user interface, the user experience, the mobile application reach, the branding and marketing of it. Those types of folks are really what [employers] are looking for right now. It’s all about information technology, but so much has switched from the systems and networking side to the user interface and user experience in the digital age, it’s brought along a new type of job candidate.
Vennitti went on to share what he’s seeing in terms of changes in marketing and IT reporting structures, and to elaborate on the opportunities available to job candidates in each field. I’ll cover that in a forthcoming post.
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.