CIOs Must Overcome Perceptions of IT Neglect

Ann All

In talking with industry analysts and CIOs, it seems as if the rest of the business often thinks IT simply has not proven its ability to be responsive enough to business needs. For instance, last summer I wrote about a survey of marketers at telecommunication companies in which the marketing executives blamed IT for their low customer-satisfaction ratings, saying that shortcomings in IT systems prevented them from delivering the capabilities they promised in their marketing campaigns.


Marketers continue to have a pretty low opinion of IT, based on results of a survey administered by the CMO Council and Accenture. According to a CIO.com story about the survey, which questioned both marketing and IT executives, just 4 percent of the marketing execs said their companies are very prepared to exploit digital marketing channels. That's especially worrisome, given that more than 80 percent of them consider digital marketing important to their organizations. Sixty-four percent of marketers said implementing new technologies has been a challenge; and 46 percent of marketers said marketing "is not seen as a priority by the IT executives."

 

For their part, 30 percent of the IT execs said they "lack the time and technical resources to help marketing," 39 percent of them said that "marketing bypasses them and works directly with the vendor" and 31 percent said "marketers hinder progress by taking control and isolating IT from solution selection, strategy or implementation."

 

Lest you think IT and marketing are just too different to work well together, consider that Forrester Research analysts Ted Schadler and Josh Bernoff spotlighted a digital marketing patnership between IT and marketing at insurance company Aflac in their new book "Empowered."

 

Part of the problem could be that the two camps appear to disagree about who is in charge of digital marketing agendas at their companies. Fifty-eight percent of IT survey respondents said they were championing, spearheading or shaping the digital agenda at their company, while 69 percent of marketers said they filled that role. Nineteen percent of the marketers said IT was leading digital agendas. This disconnect suggests a heart-to-heart conversation is in order, to determine who is in charge of what and how the two sides can work together.


 

The IT executives' statement about "a lack of time and technical resources" has a familiar ring to it. It's likely related to their other complaints about marketing bypassing and/or isolating IT. It's not hard to believe marketing executives would bypass IT, if they felt IT wasn't devoting enough time and energy to helping them with digital technologies.This is a problem in other areas of the business, not just marketing.

 

IT must become more responsive to the business. This was the theme of a keynote address given by Forrester Research VP and principal analyst James Staten at the recent itSMF Fusion conference. He suggested a three-pronged strategy:

  • Employ "strategic rightsourcing" strategies.
  • "Industrialize IT" by automating as many IT services as possible.
  • Use agile methods borrowed from application developers to create a more flexible infrastructure.

 

Staten warned IT organizations not to ignore the growing "technology populism" trend in which business users expect to take a more active role in creating technology strategies. IT organizations that don't allow this are at risk of becoming marginalized at best and obsolete at worst, Staten said.

 

Staten acknowledged that some IT professionals are resisting this trend because they fear it could cost them their jobs, a point also made by silicon.com editor Steve Ranger in a piece in which he urges IT to break free from the nerd instinct. For some IT pros, "keeping stuff complicated has been an attempt at job security through obscurity," writes Ranger. Interestingly, he suggests that for some it may even be a way of covering their own insecurities. He says:

Because they themselves aren't actually sure of the benefit they offer the business, they cover up that fear with talk of gigaquads of storage and other such techno-babble.

Yet Ranger is seeing a shift in technology marketing, in which vendors are singing the praises of hiding technological complexity from end users. That's part of the promise of cloud computing. And it's a necessary change. Staten's Forrester colleague Glenn O'Donnell made that point in a presentation he gave at itsMF Fusion. He urged IT pros to give up their natural love of complexity with a five-part strategy:

  • Present standard offerings.
  • Employ standard processes.
  • Communicate in the consumer's language.
  • Shun the love affair with complexity.
  • Automate as much as possible.

 

Standardization and automation should free up time and resources, two things that business users clearly want more of from their IT organizations, as can be seen in the CMO Council/Accenture survey results. If marketers feel neglected by IT, it's a safe bet other business units do, too.

 

It's not just another perception problem. Remember, 30 percent of the IT survey participants said they "lack the time and technical resources to help marketing."



Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Oct 8, 2010 2:11 AM XebiaLabs XebiaLabs  says:

Hi Ann, nice article. It's interesting to consider how the functionality of the IT department can affect many other departments of a company, proving further that agile is the best choice for IT departments. As you mention, it is important to industrialize IT by automating as many pieces as possible in order to un-complicate technology and make it more accessible for the end-user. Software that can automate deployments is vital for this process as it allows operations teams to avoid becoming bogged down by the constant barrage of deliverables. Rather, with deployment automation in place, they can spend time working on the jobs they were hired to do, and develop new ideas and applications that the rest of the company can grow with. Would you agree? 

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