It seems odd to be discussing this issue in 2018, but for many enterprises, there is still a problem with IT’s over-involvement in the corporate web presence. All the same, marketing operations are dominant in many companies and organizations we are brought in to consult with—often independent of the IT team.
I’ve yet to see a scenario where this separation of powers works out well.
IT and marketing nearly always have different goals and objectives. Furthermore, they go about solving their problems in vastly different ways. This creates an inevitable layer of friction that, at some point, will be exposed.
Most typically, we witness tension during times of change—perhaps a CMO is swapped out or there is a shake-up on one end of the aisle. Either way, this is an avoidable issue that should be corrected because the old-school way of having IT handle a company’s digital marketing infrastructure is dated, inefficient, and frankly, not productive for anyone.
How We Got Here
Historically, it’s easy to see how IT was put in charge of the website. The older the enterprise, the more it actually makes sense in the rear-view mirror. After all, when the Web was born, it was the medium of IT-focused individuals.
Hosting websites wasn’t easy—many companies did it themselves. There were limited products available to make the life of webmasters (which, by the way, is a title that is now practically extinct) easy, and as such, folks in charge of the company’s web presence were often IT engineers tasked with website management on top of their already busy agenda.
Websites weren’t massively consumed back then in the sense that they weren’t part of the day-to-day thought process of most consumers. Marketers and CMOs weren’t even interested in the websites in the early days. They knew they needed a website, but who cared enough to focus on it when the old-school mechanisms still worked? Remember “traditional marketing”? In that vacuum, IT absorbed the responsibility and the accountability for the web presence.
The problem with that started to slowly appear over time as the Web became a much more important medium. Yet, internal politics and policies are slow to evolve and still to this day, we see way too many IT teams still handling web management, often at the expense of the marketing team’s ability to deliver quality, iterative tactics in the digital medium.
If your company is still letting IT drive the digital presence that is all-so-important to your marketing strategy, we’ve assembled some reasons that should be contemplated and reconsidered.
Digest them, study them, and then ask yourself if it’s time to begin the transition.
1. IT Focuses on Other Areas
One of the biggest complaints we hear from digital marketing teams that still rely on IT is the lack of responsiveness or urgency from their counterparts. This frustrates marketers who need fast resolutions to problems and need to iterate quickly and often (more on this in a bit).
Marketers feel like IT folks don’t take their issues seriously, and this creates tension between teams. But I don’t honestly believe that IT doesn’t care about marketing or the website. If they didn’t care, they would’ve handed off the responsibility a long time ago. I do, however, believe that they are inundated with other responsibilities that don’t allow them time to dedicate to marketing’s requirements.
If you look at what IT does, it is staggering. More than just controlling a web presence, IT focuses on the technology solution for the entire organization. This is a mammoth undertaking. Back in the day, it was simpler—there were local area networks, storage attached, printers…nothing too complicated. But today, internal IT is a behemoth of systems that range from simple networking to interaction with cloud-based technologies, high-stakes security, and even telecommunications. If your organization is large and has many locations, tying it all together is another factor adding complexity.
The bottom line: IT is overworked and overburdened. Since IT is an internal services organization, they need to prioritize issues as they arise based on their (or upper management’s) interpretation of the importance of the issue.
We see this all the time with healthcare-oriented businesses. There is so much going on under the hood that when a web presence is managed by IT, it is most likely going to be a struggle to get anything done. Hospital systems are so overtaxing their IT teams with the software and infrastructure required to run the core business that marketing’s requests are either put on the back burner or handed off to junior folks who have no clue how to get the job done.
While we’re on this topic, we see the same issue with SaaS customers, i.e. companies that have internal software development teams developing their core solution offering. The same issue exists there! The product development team is wary to take developers off core product maintenance or development in favor of marketing tasks. As such, the same delays and frustrations occur.
2. They Don’t Understand Marketing
It’s no secret that IT doesn’t understand marketing. I’ll take this point a step further and be a bit controversial—they may not respect it either.
I mentioned above that they care about marketing and the website. I do think this is true. But I’m unsure they always respect the work marketers do. And that is because the nature of marketing and IT are completely different. I hate to paint with a broad brush, but in my experience, there are huge personality differences between the two groups.
IT personnel are structured individuals with, in many cases, deep engineering backgrounds. They see issues in black and white or in their language, binary, the comfort of the ones and zeroes. They are also risk-averse. I’m not saying any of this in a negative way—these are, after all, qualities you want in an IT professional. They handle important, often confidential data, and knowing they are precise-minded individuals is comforting.
Marketers are the complete opposite. They are more edgy, more creative. They focus their efforts on a medium with many unknowns—much of marketing is testing, iterating, studying analytics, and revising. It involves much risk. Where will your marketing dollars drive the most effective results? There is no way to know without trying. And this means their methods are inherently confusing and downright discomforting to IT professionals.
This level of discomfort creates the tension we alluded to before, and over time, it erodes even deeper. Marketing is a medium where failure is rewarded. IT is not. IT personnel often have a lower opinion of their marketing teams because they see and hear of failures in initiatives and judge that as a total loss. Marketers, however, see those failures as building blocks and keep moving.
Over time, this set of differences creates more and more friction, sometimes to the point of inhibiting the ability for marketing to accomplish the tasks they need to complete to keep their initiatives moving forward. When this happens, a complete breakdown can occur.
The only fix? Enabling marketing to do the things they need to do within their own environment. And that won’t be possible until IT relinquishes the reins of the website and digital marketing infrastructure to the folks who need it most.
3. IT Has Limiting, Slowly-Evolving Policies
As I’ve said, IT is risk-averse for the most part. This means they move slowly in accepting new technology choices and new methodologies. When this mindset is brought to marketing, it can be problematic. Marketing thrives on being one step ahead of the competition. Today, that step can be found in the myriad of technology applications available to marketers. However, it’s most effective to be an early adopter with many of these tools, at a time when the benefits can be realized and not everyone is up to speed on the latest and greatest.
This concept is foreign and uncomfortable for IT professionals. They don’t want to be early adopters. It’s more important to have a proven scalability and safety to any product. As such, IT policies evolve slowly. We still have corporate clients who are three or four versions behind on Windows, for example. I know that many in the agency business would agree that we all have one or two clients who must have their websites built around standards from 5 or more years ago, simply because those are the browsers that are used internally.
It’s frustrating, to say the least.
Marketing must be free from those policies, which can inhibit their abilities. You can’t have your initiatives stalled because internal policies restrict the tools you can use—the tools your competitors are already utilizing. Without separating control over the digital toolset available to you, it will always be a case of playing from behind. That benefits no one, not even IT.
4. IT Learns Slowly
This is a similar point to the last, but I am breaking it into two because they are each important and subtly distinct. IT innovates slowly, and as we mentioned, much of that is often because of internal policies. But the result is that their skillsets improve slowly as well.
This means that many internal IT teams simply don’t know what they don’t know because they aren’t allowed to learn it. Without playing into employment discrimination law, it isn’t unfamiliar to see an IT team that skews a bit older while seeing marketing teams that skew a bit younger.
Again, don’t call your lawyers. I’m just making an observation. In my opinion, it seems that marketing is exposed to new technologies as end-users faster than those in IT. This leads to IT being somewhat behind the trends when it comes to the latest and greatest tech tricks. I say this from experience, as my 17-year-old niece only just gave me a walkthrough of Snapchat. I’m still not quite an adopter of it either!
IT is not going to be ahead of the trends and frankly, they shouldn’t be. The technology that powers the Web is so complex that it isn’t feasible for them to realize or understand every aspect of how those tools all work together. A website needs so many different folks to operate properly. Front-end design, front-end developers, back-end developers, database administrators, system administrators, martech gurus…the list goes on and on.
IT can’t stay on top of these tools. To their credit, they are busy with other things. If you want to iterate faster than the competition, you need the freedom and flexibility to do it, and that only comes with liberation from IT.
5. Guess What: Marketers Spend Just as Much on Technology
According to Gartner, CMOs spend up to 27% of their budgets (on average) on technology. That equates to 3.24% of total revenue. CIOs spend 3.4% of total revenue on technology. This means that across the slew of organizations surveyed, marketers are spending just as much on technology as their IT counterparts.
If you had to compare your situation to them, where do you stand? Are you allocating the same budgetary figures to your marketing initiatives as your IT? Because given these averages, if you aren’t, there may be cause for concern. Obviously, throwing money at problems doesn’t always solve them, but it does make it easier to find and source those solutions.
This figure gives you a benchmark to compare your internal operations to those at other enterprises. If you are investing that much on technology, does it make the most sense to have it handcuffed by IT? If it’s your budget, why are policies that are decades old holding back your ability to find the vendors or products that can make a difference for your department?
Fixing the Problem
Hopefully, understanding of the above issues will assist you in being able to identify some of the problems in your enterprise.
But how do you go about finding a solution? This takes dedication from both sides.
IT and marketing both have to find a way to settle the divide. In my experience, there are a few things that each can do to get to the bottom of the problem and reach a solution.
What IT Needs to Do
I want to clarify that I am not putting these in any particular order! Both sides must work together to solve the problem. For IT, it’s essential that they spend some time thinking about some key points:
- Evaluate the problem: Is marketing really being held back? Do you see tension in the relationship?
- Ask yourself: Do you really want to control the website? Is associating yourself with marketing’s performance worth the added responsibilities and stress?
- If you do want to maintain control: Do you have resources you can dedicate across all the various disciplines that digital marketing requires?
- AND: Are you willing to take some shared responsibility for the expectations placed on your marketers?
- Review policies: If marketing wants to utilize tools that your competitors have in place, why? Should policies be reviewed?
What Marketers Need to Do
For marketers, the focus is a bit different than IT. Marketers looking to gain control over their web infrastructure should consider these points:
- How can you respect IT’s policies while championing changes to them? This is a careful balance.
- How can you mitigate the risks that IT loses sleep over? Special focus on security, scalability, and your own ability to support the uptime of your site or applications.
- Is it possible for you to attach your KPIs to IT in an effort to share the burden of innovation? Especially if decoupling from IT isn’t possible or feasible in the short term.
- If decoupling is not an easy argument to win, can you prepare an audit comparing your efforts to your competitors in an effort to win favor for the concept of decoupling?
Taking a huge set of responsibilities off of any team’s shoulders can’t be done overnight—this is doubly true if your IT team has been managing your company’s web presence for many years.
As with any transformation, carefully examining the way things are laid out and who is actually in charge of what is just the first of many steps to ensure a smooth transition. At the end of the day, you may actually find that your IT team is more than relieved to have fewer things on their plate.
Obviously, corporate politics will always influence decisions like this, even in situations where the marketing and IT teams are actually on board with the change. But with the Web having become one of the primary ways companies interact with the world, everyone needs to get on the same page—from the top down. The longer you wait, the harder it will be to make the split.