Should CIOs Now Surrender To Marketing? (Oddly Enough, The Answer Is “Yes. With Limits.”)

Written by Todd L. Michaud
January 24th, 2012

Todd Michaud spent years leading retail technology teams for Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins and today serves as the VP of IT for a billion-dollar franchise restaurant company. He also runs Power Thinking Media, which helps restaurants and retailers with social and mobile challenges.

In the power struggle between retail marketing and retail IT, IT is getting its server farms kicked. It started with E-Commerce and is now growing with mobile and social. And if you CIOs don’t want to see yourself falling to the lowest ranks of support departments, right below the mailroom and maintenance staff (if you’re good, you might still outrank cafeteria staff, but I wouldn’t bank on that), you’re going to have to surrender. No, not everything. But you’re going to have to surrender some long-held IT areas so you can truly retain control of the most strategic areas.

What has to go? If it can go in the cloud, get rid of it. E-Mail? Gone. Web hosting? Out of here. CRM? Exit, stage right. If it can be easily outsourced by specialist firms or even done by people in the business unit, you need to let it go, too. It’s time to evict Web and mobile app development, along with pretty much any marketing initiative that isn’t core to your business and doesn’t use data from other parts of the business. Heresy? Certainly. But it’s necessary if you have any hope of keeping your arms around information security, data and information services, and core business systems.

In three years, the chief marketing officer will have a larger technology budget than the CIO. With cloud-based applications popping up every second and ridiculously easy-to-use technology platforms such as iPads becoming more pervasive throughout the business environment, marketing teams are able to deploy applications in less time than it takes to schedule a meeting with the CIO.

So what does this mean for the already embattled IT teams that are already caught over a chasm between “keeping the lights on” with the old technology and “keeping up” with marketing and operations? It means they had better start learning to let things go. Because a good portion of what today is considered part of the IT realm is going to be quickly absorbed into the business units directly. What was once considered “shadow IT” will quickly become “business as usual.” If you are spending your time trying to put the brakes on projects that aren’t IT lead, you may very well find yourself on the wrong side of history.

I was brought up through the traditional IT ranks and hated it when the business tried to do IT projects without IT involvement. But those days are no more. Technology is coming too quickly, and the business can’t wait for IT to approve the project only to get involved and slow it down with a bunch of “red tape.” So the business stops asking IT and just makes it happen. I’ve seen it all: online ordering applications, mobile applications, retail tablets and even an entire POS platform chosen and implemented by the business without any IT involvement. It used to make me pull my hair out. Now I’ve come to realize that this is the direction business is headed (that, and I ran out of hair).

You don’t have to look very far to see the factors behind this shift.


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