Roughly five years ago when CDW was looking to transform its marketing department to become a data-driven operation based on analytics, we determined that this project’s success would require us to work more strategically with the company’s IT department.
As most have experienced in a large corporation, marketing operations and IT operations often have very different goals. That was certainly the case here at CDW. We looked to them for solutions when technical challenges arose, but we seldom gave them credit when it was time to celebrate a win.
Once we recognized that this disconnect impeded CDW’s attempts to innovate our customer experience, we worked furiously to correct the situation. We wanted to build a different relationship with IT than we had in the past. We started by scheduling lunch dates with them where we would explain our business strategy. From those meetings we learned that IT leaders weren’t aware that we used ecommerce analytics rigorously or that data is at the heart of the marketing department. We knew that without enlisting IT’s help, we would be left spinning our wheels.
Meeting all of the company’s business goals and using data to anticipate and support our customers’ needs depended on our ability to integrate the IT staff with not only marketing, but all of CDW’s most important departments. It was a big multi-threaded, multi-tentacle process.
Best Practices for Collaborating with IT
Companies looking to leverage IT to move forward on their business goals can learn from our experience. Here are four best practices based on lessons we learned transforming our marketing department:
1. Map out a strategic direction for the business.
In our case, the goal was to use data analytics to learn more about our customers’ wants and needs and then reduce duplicative marketing and advertising efforts and be more responsive to partners and customers. But it’s hard to apply a tech strategy to a business when the business unit or department doesn’t have an operating strategy or long-range plan. Start with the end in mind and build comprehensively with the end in mind. Know where you’re trying to go, define your processes (see Best Practice No. 2) and then enlist IT to help you layer a tech strategy over your business unit strategy.
2. Overhaul your processes.
You can’t solve bad processes by investing in technology. The IT department works best when it’s deploying technology over revamped processes that optimize the technology. For example, don’t collect 5,000 fields of data just to learn later that you only needed 80 fields. Determining the processes in advance will save you the cost of tens of thousands of dollars in storage. We found that the IT staff was thrilled when they realized that the marketing department was more interested in reworking its processes rather than just layering new technology over inefficient practices.
3. Encourage IT to play a more deliberate role.
If you expect IT to support you, they need to know what you do. Convey your goals to them and then formulate your strategy together. We informed them of our strategy to build a marketing data repository. But instead of the IT staff being the code crunchers or gear heads in the back office, they became equal partners in explaining our defined business goals to others; whether they were in-house or not. For instance, we consolidated many of our outsourced vendors and contracts and partnered with a global systems integrator and consulting company to augment our data analytics effort. This consolidation included six full-time employees for marketing analysts, two for database managers and another two people who did tagging and tracking. Nevertheless, we still needed expertise from our in-house IT team, but more as trusted advisors who would work closely with our third-party vendors as opposed to the ones doing the heavy lifting.
4. Build an integrated team.
Don’t think of IT as a nameless utility. Everyone uses technology on the job, which means that most corporate IT departments are vital to every department in the organization. IT leaders should see this as an advantage and forge bonds with those departments. For example, whatever we did on the marketing analytics project, we did in tandem with marketing, IT and the chief financial officer’s team. Everyone had a seat at the table, and when things went well, we made sure to give some of the credit to the IT staff. We’ve built a relationship with IT in which they now feel free to offer suggestions for how they can work more closely with each department and improve the business. Now, CDW does not prioritize lines of business independent of IT, but we focus on LOB aligned with IT. Even today we have monthly video conferences with the IT staff to keep tabs on what’s working and how we can work together to make the operation more efficient.
Today, CDW’s marketing efforts are less duplicative and more personalized, and the IT staff has played an important role in making that happen. Smaller organizations can learn from these best practices because most have lean IT staffs and will need to bring in a third party to execute much of the hands-on computing work. When companies can get IT executives to work as strategic thinkers looking to grow the business, the more success they’ll have in applying technical solutions that improve their customer’s journey.