A story of a CIO, IT and Marketing

Versus 2004 By magnacasta on flickrI heard a pretty good story recently.  It goes something like this:

A new CIO joins the company. He’s not completely new to the organization but he is new to the role and a new employee. Previously, he’d been running a couple of projects for an outsourced ‘partner’ within the organization and had ingratiated himself with the leadership team. They liked what he did and offered him the role of CIO.

The new CIO started reaching out to the organization to see how he could help. One of the first groups he spoke to was the marketing group.

A meeting was set between the CIO and the main people within marketing.  The CIO told the marketing group that he’d loved to work with them and do whatever was needed.  They mentioned the various changes and development efforts they’d been trying to get done within their content management system and were told he’d absolutely support them with as many resources as needed.

In addition to promising support and offering resources,  he cautioned against doing things outside the process.  He cautioned the marketing group on following the proper processes to get new websites and new technology implemented.  He cautioned against trying to lead the way with their own technology.

He used the line that we’ve all heard (and some of us have said)…he said “IT is hear to help, but remember – IT owns the technology, Marketing owns the content“.

The meeting ended well. The marketing group felt like they’d be able to work with this CIO and the CIO felt like he’d made real progress.

Fast forward a few weeks.

The marketing group needed to get a new website live.  They reached out to the IT group to get a resource assigned to build out the necessary containers for the new website in the content management system.

They were told that no resources were available now but that they should be able to get to the project in the next month.   A month delay in the project wasn’t necessarily that bad so they waited.

And waited.

The next month arrived and the marketing team was told that there were still no resources. And there wouldn’t be any for a few months.

So…what did the marketing team do?

The marketing group leadership went to the CIO to ask for help.  He wasn’t available to meet but promised resources asap.

But no resources were assigned.

So…the marketing group did what they had to do.  They had a deadline that they had to meet. They setup a website on their own using an externally hosted web server using open source software. They designed the site, filled it with content and turned it live within 2 weeks.

From all accounts, the new website was a hit…it did what the marketing group (and their target clients) needed it to do. And it was done without the promised help of the CIO & IT.

Fast forward a few weeks.

The CIO called another meeting with the marketing group.

This time the CIO wasn’t cordial. This time he was confrontational.  He was angry that the marketing group ‘went around’ IT. He was angry that they didn’t use the organization’s content management system for the new website.  He was angry that marketing rolled out a new project technology and his IT group wasn’t leading the charge.

The CIO talked about the need to standardize technologies. He talked about the need to follow process. He talked about the need to let IT lead technology initiatives.

The marketing team responded to the angry CIO in a like manner.  They talked about the lack of support and lack of resources. They shared the timelines and requests for IT support and the lack of that support.  They shared their frustration and feelings of no support from IT.

The CIO agreed that things could have been done better and he promised to improve things in the future. He talked about improving the processes in place to ensure marketing is supported.  He mentioned hiring additional resources too.

And the CIO reiterated the need for Marketing to let the IT group run and manage technology.  He reiterated the mantra of “IT owns the technology, Marketing owns the content.”

Fast forward a few more weeks.

The marketing group needed to make some changes to one of their major websites.  They needed some major functional changes and needed IT support.   This new project needed to be a quick turn too as the new functionality needed to be released within a month to coincide with a new marketing campaign.

They went to the IT group and followed the process outlined by the CIO but were told it would be 2 months before IT resources could be freed up for their new project.

The marketing team was furious.  They had to have this new functionality live in a month.  What did they do?

They did what they had to do….they hired an outside consultant to come in and make the necessary changes to the website.  They had to sneak these changes around the IT group’s production code change process – but that wasn’t hard to do.

They got their needed changes made and were happy.

Fast forward to the present

The CIO is still promising to help marketing…but he’s unable to deliver.  He’s unable to deliver the project resources needed by the marketing group.

The marketing group has completely stopped talking to the IT group about any new technology projects. They’ve hired their own agency to act as their development arm.

The CIO and IT group are furious at the marketing group and are trying to get the CEO to ‘force’ marketing to come back in-house and use IT for all technology initiatives.

Both teams are at an impasse. They can’t understand the other’s needs.  They can’t understand how to work together.  They are now fighting against each other for resources and ‘control’.

I’m not sure how the story will play out in the end, but I suspect the marketing team will come out ahead since the future of this organization is squarely on the shoulders of their marketing efforts.

Great story, right?

I thought it was.

Stories like this play out every day between IT and Marketing. There are many reasons for these types of events, but the main reasons can be summed up with the following points.

  1. Committing before understanding.  The CIO completely over-committed to the marketing group without really taking the time to understand their needs.
  2. Failing to plan.  Neither the CIO nor the marketing team did much real planning. The marketing group didn’t provide =enough time for the IT group to bring the marketing projects into the IT project portfolio to ensure proper planning.  The CIO failed to ensure that his promises to the IT group were considered and included in IT project plans.
  3. Failure to communicate. The CIO and Marketing leadership stopped talking.  Communication is key.
  4. I vs You / IT vs Marketing.   The CIO led the relationship off with the “I own the technology, you own the content” mentality.  This immediately puts people into the mode of picking a ‘side’…maybe its subconscious, but it happens.  No longer is there and “I” and a “you”…there’s only room for ‘we’ within today’s organizations.
  5. Confronting rather than Understanding.  Once the CIO heard about the marketing group going ‘rogue’, he confronted them.  He then promised to solve the problem (and failed).   Rather than confronting, try understanding.

Next time you find yourself working with another group, think about this story and the issues I outlined above.  Can you find ways to work better with your coworkers and colleagues?  Can you communicate better? Perhaps understand the needs of the IT group better?

What can IT and Marketing do to work better together?  What changes can IT make to better support marketing? What changes can marketing make to work better with IT?

These are questions that face every company today…what are we doing to answer them?

Image Credit: Versus 2004 By magnacasta on flickr

38 responses to “A story of a CIO, IT and Marketing”

  1. Jeff Cox Avatar


    “What we’ve got here is failure to communicate.” – Cool Hand Luke

    Great story! I have seen all too often in organizations failing to plan and failing to communicate. Communication and planning seem to be key issues in most organizations that are constantly talked about but the issues are never resolved. I know change is hard – but if all you do is sit down and say we need to communicate more – and then don’t what have you achieved? In one of my blog posts I discuss Trend Micros communication issues – and in the end communication failures internally end up impacting your customers or potential customers.

    So now the problem has been identified – how do you resolve it. This change needs to start at the top of the organization I believe. Each company is different therefore there is no one solution to fit all. Again great post.

    1. Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. Avatar

      I was actually thinking of that movie when i wrote ‘failure to communicate” 🙂

      Solving problems like this is key for any organization…but at the end of the day, it comes down to solving a communication and people problem. Solves those and you’ve got yourself a chance to do some real good stuff going forward.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Elmer Boutin Avatar

    Well done, Eric. You are right, this story plays out over and over. Hopefully by talking about it over and over we can help change attitudes and help organizations take their collaborations to a higher level.

    1. Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. Avatar

      Thanks Elmer…always appreciate you stopping by.

  3. Chris Curran Avatar

    This is a good story and one that happens for any functional leader when interacting with the CIO/IT when they dont have a plan to work against. While it would be great for the CIO to just “jump on” the ad hoc request, presumably he was hampered because IT was working on other “scheduled” projects. That said, there should be some slack in the plan/resources to handle these kinds of requests cause things never happened just as planned.

    Here are some lessons learned about dealing with these kinds of requests in a more incremental and agile way: http://www.ciodashboard.com/cio-role/the-agile-cio-as-a-business-it-marriage-counselor/

    Thanks Eric. -cc

    1. Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. Avatar

      Chris – You are right….its never easy for anyone to just ‘jump’ on a project at the whim of others, but that’s part of setting expectations that he CIO should have done….then make sure resources were available to help when needed. Its a very difficult problem in today’s ‘do more with less’ but one can can be solved with expectations, planning and communications.

      Thanks for the link…I’ll check it out.

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  7. A story of a CIO, IT and Marketing:  I heard a pretty good story recently.  It goes something like this:A new CI… http://bit.ly/mhS3NI

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  17. jfbauer Avatar

    Eric, indeed a scenario that plays out in a variety of organizations with a centralized IT group with a centralized budgeting process and a centralized prioritization process bumping up against a business unit that is demanding more and faster IT services. My take is this comes down to corporate governance. Is the organization (CEO in this case) going to reflect the centralized prioritization function to constrain the marketing group when the holistic prioritization says something besides marketing is more strategically important? Example: marketing campaign versus strategic ERP upgrade/deployment.

    I am a fan of a centralized budget with “lines of credit” allocated to the lines of business for central IT spend. Thus, when, in this case, marketing wants to spend IT dollars, they can dip into their line of credit and IT, setup to service all business units based on the budget, can service them. When marketing wants to spend more than their line of credit, they can petition the organization and if granted, IT’s budget is increased to service marketing.

    This takes flexible technology (think SOA) and more agile (not Agile with a capital A specifically) management and teams to handle such flexing of IT spend. Of course, not a silver bullet by the long shot, but it does provide some metrics for groups, like marketing, that may need a more unique servicing model compared to other business units.

    1. Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. Avatar

      Good points John. I like the idea of lines of credit….haven’t heard that term use exactly but have run across the idea.

      My only issue with that (and most other ways of prioritization) is there must be an agile approach (again…not the capital “A” Agile…but the more general term) to the business.

      Resources and funds must be assigned based on some form of governance / prioritization model which should be based on strategic direction for the organization. In an ideal world, that works…but we all know in the real world, new projects show up on the doorstep of IT, Marketing and everyone throughout the year.

      The key to making that work is ensuring that everyone is accountable, everyone knows what is required of them and proper resources are available for the necessary projects as well as the ‘surprise’ projects.

      As you know, its a tough problem…but one that can be overcome with flexibility, communication and a general sense of ‘teamwork’…which I can tell you that some folks in this particular story did not have.

      Thanks for the comment….excellent as always!

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  32. abhishekmgupta Avatar

    WOW, the entire story is narrated exactly as I had faced a while back while leading the product dev and IT team of a internet company.

    Thanks for writing a great article Eric, it reminds me of the numerous fight our IT and Marketing had.

    I ended up solving by creating a Content/Web team and new lightweight agile process, wherein sole job of the team was to manage the CMS we had and take direct requirements from marketing. The entire approval cycle of change management and release was shortened and for all practical purposes this team reported into the Product marketing manager

    I believe the conclusion you have drawn is right, sometime departments miss out on the common goal of the whole exercise, which is the company’s vision (and that it should be making money). We also tried a few things which worked, like sending the employees of different departments on team building exercise, reiterating the goal often and everywhere.

    I think it did work for us to quite an extent, but I must say it wasn’t smooth sailing as I would have imagined.

    1. Eric D. Brown, D.Sc. Avatar

      Thanks. This type of thing happens all over the place in all different types of organizations. You hit on an interesting solution and one which I’ve tried too that worked well.

  33. […] the CMO and CIO working closely together in the past.. for a few examples – see here, here, here and here.Recently, other’s have been picking up the cheer for a closer relationship […]