Big Data demands new alliances

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Back in the 1990s a lot of technology conferences sprouted up around the theme of information technology as a competitive advantage. IT was expected to drive operational efficiencies that separated the leaders from the laggards. That thinking proved to be optimistic. Walmart and a few others did make operations a core competence, but as the new millennium dawned nearly everyone was using the same platforms. The title of a then-hot new book proclaimed “IT Doesn't Matter.” Well, IT does matter again, but its promise depends upon an alliance between tech people and their polar opposites on the Myers-Briggs scale: marketers. “Big Data” may finally deliver on the promise of competitive advantage, but a lot of fences need to be mended before that can happen. When I left technology media a few years ago, I was shocked at the level of animosity I found toward IT organizations in the outside world. Tech departments are seen as bureaucratic obstacles at best, enemies of change at worst. Mention IT to a roomful of corporate marketers and the eyes start rolling. I found that many marketers perceive their tech staffs to be risk-averse control freaks, while IT people regard marketers as right-brained technophobes. About the only thing they have in common is that neither gets along with sales. But now this odd couple will be forced to play together nicely. Customer insight based on data analysis may deliver the long-sought advantage that operational efficiencies didn't. Micro-segmentation demands that organizations make sense of the masses of data they collect in the quest to deliver unique experiences. Technology is becoming so critical to marketing that Gartner forecast that by 2017 CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs. They'll need some help. IT will still be the ones to gather and normalize data to make it useful. Marketers will need training in the complex tools of data analysis. That requires cooperation. At this point, though, the sides are still far apart. Recent research by the CMO Council found that only 12% of marketers described their relationship with IT as being one of “total partnership and alignment.” The same survey found that almost six in 10 marketers believe they're missing important data that could help them better understand customers. Many blame IT. Meanwhile, companies that are aligned race ahead. Retail chain Target caught grief last year over news that its corporate data banks can spot pregnant customers before their own families know they're pregnant. While privacy advocates clucked, I'll bet a lot of marketers were quietly nodding in admiration. That kind of insight is hard for anyone to copy. It's marketing's job to reach across the aisle. The stereotype is true: Most IT people are too introverted to ask for help, but they desperately want to be more strategic to their companies. They're well aware that IT's star has faded over the past decade, and a new breed of cloud services and bring-your-own-device independence further threatens their influence. They're eager to make a contribution, but somebody has to ask. Somebody in marketing.
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