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Proving I.T.'s Value to the Executive Suite

By Michael Vizard  |  Posted 2006-09-06 Print this article Print

Want to bridge the gap between technology and the business side? Try the marketing department.

For more years than anybody cares to remember, people have been talking about the need to bridge the great divide between information technology and business. But when it comes to making specific recommendations to achieve that, everybody tends to fall back on a wide range of empty platitudes.

To actually bridge the divide, I.T. people need to understand where the business hurts. That means I.T. people need to gain some level of visibility into the business. But you can't get that visibility if you spend all your time working in the boiler room, so in order to get an invitation topside, an I.T. manager needs to effect a result that will get the attention of the business side. The question is, where is the best place to start making a difference that will get noticed by executive management?

This brings us to the marketing department, which invariably is the least-understood area of any company's operations in terms of how it spends money to create a positive result that can actually be measured. In the absence of any real measurement tools, most investment in marketing campaigns is based on an article of faith that assumes there is a definable return on that investment. Moreover, most marketing departments are not all that efficient because they don't conclusively know what campaign is working and, more important, when is it actually working.

Given that set of business realities, the marketing department seems like it might be an ideal place for an enterprising I.T. manager to make an impact in a way that would prove the definitive value of I.T. to the business.

For example, SunTrust deployed Affinium marketing management software, developed by Unica Corp., on top of an Oracle database to give advertising campaign managers more visibility and flexibility. According to Jennifer Wilson, SunTrust's vice president in charge of marketing campaigns, the deployment of Affinium not only allowed the company to double the number of campaigns it could run concurrently using the same number of staffers, but it could also tweak campaigns in progress and then monitor the effect those changes had on the overall effort.

For SunTrust, that made a massive difference in terms of making the marketing department not only more efficient, but also more accountable to the rest of the business. But SunTrust only achieved that epiphany because the marketing group had its own I.T. professional—Mike Register, the company's vice president of database marketing.

What made the difference here is that rather than being attached to the I.T. department, Register is a member of the marketing department with a strong technology background. That allowed him to gain enough visibility into the business needs of the company to recommend an application that leveraged the company's overall move to an Oracle database platform.

Unfortunately, most companies don't follow the SunTrust model. Instead, they usually have a highly centralized I.T. organization, or they have a distributed model where every business unit invests in its own I.T. infrastructure. The SunTrust approach is a blended model; specific departments hire subject-matter experts who are I.T.-savvy, and they in turn work closely with a centralized I.T. group responsible for running the core infrastructure.

On the face of it, the SunTrust approach seems like an intuitively obvious way to bridge the divide between business and information technology. But what happens more often than not is that either I.T. is reluctant to release that kind of control to individual departments, or the departments don't see the value in carrying the cost of what seems like an I.T. function on their books when the company is already paying for a separate technology department. But it only takes one intrepid soul to reach across the divide to study the processes that actually drive a particular segment of the business, such as marketing, and then begin applying cutting-edge information technology to modernize those processes.

Once the effort gets made, you're likely to get a warm reception from the business side. You'll also find yourself holding your head a little higher because instead of being viewed as part of a necessary cost center, the businesspeople you work with will finally see you as the linchpin of the business strategy that you really are.

Michael Vizard is editorial director at Ziff Davis Media's enterprise technology group. He can be reached at michael_vizard@ziffdavis.com.

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