By Keith Tilley, Executive Vice President, Global Sales & Customer Services at Sungard Availability Services

Long considered as an art form, for years marketing departments relied on gut-feeling and individual insight. Today’s marketing departments would be unrecognisable to traditionalists. Hit by a technological revolution, scientific methods and measurements are becoming increasingly essential to any organisation’s strategy. IT is now a vital part of the marketing tool-box - not only to get an edge on the competition, but often to simply keep up.

Gartner famously predicted that by 2020 all businesses will be technology businesses, and in no department is this clearer than marketing. CMOs have readily accepted the ‘digital-first’ mind-set, often taking a lead in proposing and developing new and exciting IT projects.

The Rise of Shadow IT

For many marketing departments getting their hands on the latest IT tools and techniques is crucial. However, they can sometimes find the path can be blocked by unresponsive and slow IT departments. In fact, Sungard AS’ research found that 85 per cent of marketers admit they often circumvent the IT department in order to access the latest technology. And it’s really no surprise: we found that only 55 per cent of marketers feel their organisation encourages interdepartmental collaboration. A business is a single entity and more must be done to ensure that departments are collaborating across the business, not working in silos to their own separate targets.

Going alone is not simply inefficient — with departments often ending up paying separately for services and missing out on economies of scale — but is also dangerous. Placing valuable business data in the hands of third party providers without alerting the CIO or wider IT department means that business risk cannot be controlled. Without being melodramatic — marketers could be meddling with forces they don’t understand. Issues of data sovereignty, industry compliance laws and internal disaster recovery processes must all be taken into account when provisioning new services. This is why a close working relationship between the marketing department and the CIO is vital.

Building Bridges

In the CMO, IT departments have a staunch ally. As some of the earliest technology adopters, marketers are keen to stay at the leading edge of their industry with the latest tools. We found that the overwhelming majority of marketers (91 per cent) believe working with the CIO as essential in creating a competitive advantage.

IT plays a central part of any marketing strategy, from campaign creation to delivery and beyond to results analysis. We worked with Joe Peppard, a professor at the European School of Management and Technology, to develop some best practice tips for marketers looking to build a professional rapport with IT:

1. Stay in the Loop

Take the time to stay abreast of the latest and greatest technology trends: harness the CIO’s unique position as a business leader and technologist who can deliver valuable insights into how technology can benefit your long-term strategy.

Moreover, work to encourage IT literacy within your own team. This understanding that IT can be a potent competitive weapon can help build links between both marketing and IT departments.

2. Maintain Radio Contact

Don’t leave the digital agenda solely to the CIO. The CIO has a key role but so too does the whole C-Suite. Partner with your CIO to map out the digital transformation agenda: identify tangible ways in which you can embed IT at the heart of your business decisions. Conversations should be continuous and a significant part of the planning process — not simply an afterthought.

3. Take a 360 View of IT

Recognise that while distribution channels and the interface with customers receive most attention from media reports, the greatest bottom line impact may actually come from operational improvements.

Start re-thinking your budgets — could working through the IT department mean that services can be shared with other business departments, enabling savings through economies of scale? And IT spending doesn’t necessarily have to come from the CIO — make sure your department is contributing its fair share.

4. Share the Knowledge… and the Credit

Be vocal in promoting your partnership with the IT department. Help publicise the evolving role of the CIO, showing that s/he is now a part of the business discussion and able to view the company with a board-level perspective.

Make the CIO an ally by pushing other line of business managers to start conversations with the IT department. You can encourage this collaboration by demonstrating your own joint successes, showing how any partnership between departments can produce a clear competitive advantage, and without introducing any unintended risks or adverse consequences.

Every successful business has one thing in common — a singular aim, with everyone pulling in that one direction. Any disconnect between departments must be addressed quickly, and from the top. This means the CMO must be seen to be collaborating closely, and publically, with the CIO — encouraging further discussion to take place between the departments.