Why can’t IT and marketing just get along?

They can, but it’s going to take a lot more than just awesome digital technology. That was the takeaway from a roundtable of Canadian marketing and IT executives held in Toronto this morning.

Members of Canada’s CIO and CMO ranks came together for a frank discussion on how they can best collaborate on digital marketing opportunities arising from newer technologies like big data, analytics, social media and mobile. Two hours of talk culminated in the conclusion that technology is only one part of the collaborative solution.

“Many would suggest that it’s a big nut to crack and they haven’t really been able to figure it out yet,” said Bob Humphreys, country leader for digital strategy and demand programs at IBM Canada, which sponsored the ITBusiness.ca event.

All eight executives – hailing from the insurance, retail, healthcare, telecom and non-profit sectors – agreed new technologies allow them to collect more data about individuals than ever before. The goal is to use that data to create personalized marketing content for all of those individuals: emails, flyers, ads and calls targeted to the specific habits and tastes of each customer. The question is, how? For a start, IT and marketing have to start working on it together, said Humphreys.

“It’s very unlikely to happen unless the CMO engages the CIO,” said Humphreys. “They both have to have skin in the game.”

Some organizations are simply encouraging better communication between IT and marketing on such matters. Others are creating new positions like Chief Digital Officer to encompass parts of both departments. Some are taking a top-down approach that sees the CEO imparting the importance of digital marketing opportunities throughout all parts of the entire company. It’s a seismic shift in corporate roles and culture that’s still evolving.

“It’s a large opportunity but also a large issue because it’s so different from how organizations behave today,” Humphreys said.

Other barriers to CMO/CIO collaboration include an overwhelming volume of data, integrating new data with old, legacy IT systems, a lack of business skills on the IT side and a dearth of technical depth on the marketing side. There are privacy concerns over collecting and harnessing all that personal data, too, not to mention worries about turning off consumers with an onslaught of unsolicited marketing messages.

Those challenges echoed a recent 50-page report released by the Canadian Marketing Association. The study, prepared by the Conference Board of Canada with support from IBM, features case studies of Canadian organizations grappling with the very same issues surrounding CMO/CIO collaboration.

As the two hours came to a close on Thursday, roundtable guests from both the IT and marketing streams agreed to work more closely on the issue. Some parting advice came courtesy of Gary Davenport, VP of IT at Allstream Inc. Work together, he advised, but don’t try to tackle the whole ball of wax in one go.

“The old saying is, ‘How do you eat an elephant?’” Davenport recalled. “One bite at a time.”

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