A better way to spend your tech dollars

social media applications and content management just a small part of the long list of technology marketing teams are investing in

IT's new opportunity comes from its historical strength

For most companies, systems integration is very complex, involving existing back-end operations such as supply chain management, inventory management and order management; customer-facing interactions such as marketing campaigns, customer support and company websites; and the analytics marketing uses to understand and tune all the pieces in that whole customer experience, notes Paul Papas, head of global e-commerce at IBM. Because of the complexity involved, marketing can't do it alone -- it needs IT.

IT's focus is typically on the so-called back-end infrastructure, so companies that have in-house IT integration skills can help marketing meet its complex integration challenges. This, according to Accenture, means providing a unified network and data infrastructure that link data housed across the organisation, often in different forms, as well as information held outside the company so they can be tracked and analysed. As you'd expect, the traditional IT systems vendors such as Adobe Systems, BMC, IBM, Oracle, Salesforce.com, and SAP, are working to retune their offerings for the new types of data and customer interactions.

But integrating and modernising existing information systems will take years because "most large enterprises heavily customise their CRM products or create their own combination of home-grown and package-based solutions," says Chris Davey, global head of customer engagement platforms at the digital marketing consultancy SapientNitro.

IT has historically created the infrastructure for structured data, such as those held in ERP systems and data warehouses, used for financial reporting or to look at past transactions for uncovering changes in customer purchases or comparing projections to reality. But IT has little experience in bringing in data from the outside or from customer touchpoints, such as analysing website behaviour prior to purchase or understanding the behaviors that customers go through before ever coming to a business's website. That's where big data technology comes in, so businesses can get insights from new data sources. As the name ‘big data’ implies, there's a lot of such data, and being able to sift through it in the more exploratory fashion appropriate to marketing analysis requires different technologies and information management skills than IT has typically needed.

Because the information systems that support technology-savvy marketing involve many of the systems that run the day-to-day operations, governance is a critical area that requires attention from multiple business departments. It can't be done by just IT, by just marketing, or by any other single entity.

Technologists across the company need to focus on data protection, ownership and access of both traditional data sources and the new types of data now available such as social, mobile, and, behavioural. Add to the mix the many database marketing companies (such as Epsilon, Experian, First Data, Harte-Hanks, and R.R. Donnelley) that manage captured customer information on behalf of many enterprises. The result is a web of complex and evolving agreements governing ownership and access among every participant.

The new web of technology relationships

For starters, managing that web requires putting together an internal steering group composed of the marketing chief, CIO, sales and/or e-commerce chief, brand and geography heads, and one or more analytics experts.

Creating an internal steering and coordination group doesn't mean all the technology should be centralised, just coordinated, says Gartner's McLellan. She expects IT to focus on the infrastructure and back end, using a mix of internal systems and external technology providers. Marketing then handles the digital marketing and analysis, again using a combination of internal and external resources.

Without such coordination, companies will end up with a bunch of marketing technology silos that won't integrate well with the rest of the company. And that will lead to a disconnect between what marketing does with and for the customer and what the rest of company does with and for the customer, creating devastating chasms in the customer experience.

Follow CMO World on Twitter: @CMOAustralia.

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