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Doug Henschen
Doug Henschen
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Unresponsive IT? CEO Must Share Blame

Social CRM and multi-channel marketing are the latest trends fueling questions about IT priorities, but have top executives bought into these priorities?

Marketing execs complain that their IT departments are ignoring important new marketing priorities and standing in the way of innovation. Two areas in particular where IT is seen to be less than responsive are multi-channel marketing and social CRM.

Multi-channel marketing involves coordinating efforts across retail outlets, e-commerce sites, contact centers, email, and mobile. Chief marketing officers need help getting their arms around all the data and analyses generated across all those customer contact points.

Unfortunately, CIOs and IT departments aren't exactly rising to the occasion, according to a recent survey of 1,700 CMOs conducted by IBM.

Social CRM is about connecting new marketing initiatives on networks such as Facebook and Twitter with established CRM systems. IT organizations are saying it will take at least six months to integrate their companies' social and other online marketing initiatives with the everyday corporate databases, says IT consultant Tim Pacileo, a principle with TheBoardRoomAdvisors.com.

[ Want more on the IT-marketing relationship? Read 6 Rules To Help CIOs, CMOs Be Smart Partners. ]

"Never have I seen the marketing people more frustrated with IT," Pacileo wrote me in response to my recent InformationWeek feature "How To Get From Social To CRM." "Most marketing teams can't wait that long. . . [so] they're leading the embrace of cloud computing alternatives that can be put in place in three to six weeks."

These sorts of complaints were commonplace 15 years ago, when e-commerce started gathering momentum. The cloud wasn't an option back then, so departments and line-of-business units went around IT bottlenecks by hiring their own tech people. IT organizations were up to their eyeballs in ERP deployments and Y2K remediations, so they weren't paying as much attention to these new business "imperatives" as some colleagues would have liked.

For the most part, these early e-commerce groups were treated as standalone experiments rather than keys to the future. The unspoken message to CIOs: Give this a bit of attention, but otherwise it's business as usual

Just what message are top executives sending today? Multi-channel marketing and social CRM may be at the top of the CMO's agenda, but not all CEOs are pushing these trends. And CIOs and their IT organizations tend to be only as progressive and innovative as their CEOs expect them to be.

Patrick Byrne, CEO of Overstock.com, one of the most tech-savvy top executives I've ever interviewed, set a tech-driven agenda from the company's start in 1999. In recent years, Byrne has overseen Overstock's aggressive move into agile development. "Our business units are now being led by technologists," he told me in this 2010 interview. "It took several years to get the culture of the company right, but it's just so much better than the old waterfall approach."

CEOs must pay the same level of attention to digital marketing. At clothing retailer Guess, e-commerce is now a huge part of the company's revenue mix, and multi-channel marketing is part of the core strategy. And like many fashion-forward, youth-oriented companies, Guess has strong social and mobile initiatives because that's what its customers expect. Guess recently launched a mobile app that, with customers' permission, links in with their Facebook profiles and likes.

Guess vice-chairman and CEO Paul Marciano is credited with building the company's e-commerce business since the dot-com era, and he directed all marketing activities before taking over as sole CEO in 2007 (when his brother, Maurice, became chairman). It's no coincidence Guess CIO Michael Relich is way out in front supporting multi-channel marketing and social CRM.

Still, other companies are far more conservative for legal and regulatory reasons. "Social media is the new frontier for many, and they're figuring out how to navigate the more than 15,000 regulations in North America that apply to electronic communications, along with complex e-discovery requirements and internal privacy policies," observes a spokeswoman for Actiance, which sells security, management, and compliance software. Highly regulated businesses such as pharmaceuticals, financial services, government agencies, and healthcare providers aren't typically social networking pioneers.

The point is that corporate strategies are all over the road map, and CIOs take their cue from the top.

"When I met [CEO] Carl Camden during the interview process three years ago, he told me, 'IT has been an obstacle for us, and it needs to be an enabler,'" said Joe Drouin, CIO of Kelly Services, at Salesforce.com's Dreamforce conference last fall. "Our CEO has completely bought into the social enterprise, and he's out there every day using the Chatter platform, bringing his message to the 9,000 people we have spread all over the world." (Chatter is Salesforce.com's social collaboration tool.)

In an ideal world envisioned by marketing expert Tim Pearson, CIOs and CMOs would share the title of chief revenue officer, both held accountable for reaching revenue targets. But these executives often compete and focus too narrowly on their own priorities. IT is usually preoccupied with building out infrastructure while marketing is dazzled by the potential revenue growth of the latest new thing.

Marketing needs IT's help with technology platform selection, data integration, and systems integration, and it often underestimates the cost and difficulty of implementation. CIOs often nod in agreement during joint meetings, but they don't take the time to detail marketing requirements.

What's needed is executive oversight, Pearson says. The CEO and COO may be aware of big picture IT and marketing initiatives, but they should also sign off on details such as budgets and key deadlines.

In short, even if CIOs and CMOs see eye to eye on the so-called digital marketing revolution, companies can't be revolutionary unless the CEO is also on board.

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