A disconnect exists between digital marketing and IT that's fueled in part by software promising IT-free solutions. But the truth isn't that simple.

I just finished reading fellow CMSWire columnist’s Matt Mullen’s article “Dispelling the Chief Marketing Officer Myth," and I’d really recommend it to you if you’re grappling with strategic and governance decisions around Big Data management. The article resonated with me based on the work that I've been doing with my clients around analytics governance.

In my work as an analytics consultant, I am more frequently encountering organizations where the CMO of the digital channel is saying “I need a 360 degree view of the customer” and more traditional database analytics leaders saying “We know digital data is important, but we don’t own it, and we really don’t know what to do with it.”

Sound familiar?

At the same time, there is a pretty vague sense of what to do with this data… as in, “how do we get to actionable insights?” So, there are really two issues here: one is about the actual collection of data and the other is about understanding the data.

Based on what I've seen, both marketing and IT seem a lot more comfortable talking about the point solutions and systems that deal with the data -- not so much on what to do with it -- and BI folks are interested in starting to experiment with digital data to come up with ROI models, predictive marketing models and interesting segmentations.

The Truth Behind IT Free Solutions 

I've been working in the Internet field since 1993 and web analytics since 1996, and I wrote the CMSWatch Web Analytics Report. The push to put digital marketing tools, including analytics, into the hands of marketers (digital and web analytics included) has created an interesting dynamic. Marketers know more about technology solutions than ever before, but the promise of completely enabling marketers to run their programs independent of technology professionals is really more about desire than reality.


Much of this paradigm has been fueled by software vendors in the digital channel. For example, in the early days of analytics in the mid to late 1990s, the solutions were heavily dependent on fairly traditional IT involvement: server admins, system admins, network admins, to enable the processing and storage of log files. This really got in the way of making sales for the analytics vendors.

When it was introduced, the page tag method of data collection was touted as a way to “cut out IT.” Vendors started to pitch directly to marketers -- a practice that is still alive and well. The only problem with this, as anyone who has implemented analytics will tell you, is that there is still a dependency on IT: not server admins any longer, but JavaScript developers. So, the IT burden shifted, but didn't go away. And now marketers have to share that burden of implementation if for no other reason that they have been purchasing the analytics solution.

I have worked with dozens of organizations over the years, large and small, regional and international, commercial, government and non-profit, and in that time, I think I could count on one hand the instances where the relationship between the digital channel or marketing team and IT was referred to in positive terms. Most of my clients and analytics managers I've surveyed for my Profiles in Analytics research express frustration that their requests to update code, or have applications coded correctly or have their requirements put into new CMS templates are not considered to be critical.

From my perspective, much of this disconnect has occurred because marketers who have bought the systems are responsible for getting it implemented. But that wasn't what was supposed to happen, the vendor said IT wouldn't be needed.

Even with the advent of tag management systems, yet another technology designed to move tag maintenance away from IT and into marketing or digital teams, there is still likely a need for JavaScript programmer resources to be involved to set up the system initially and to update the rules that drive the system.

Yet the perception from the marketers is that they’ll forever be able to rid themselves of recalcitrant IT departments. Said one web analytics manager to me, “Yes, we’re purchasing a tag management system to completely go around IT. We’re looking forward to not having to deal with them anymore.”

I’m here to tell you that it isn't quite that straightforward, just like it hasn't been that straightforward in implementing analytics. And thinking that putting technology in the hands of the marketing team gets around IT? It doesn't sound like a great recipe for moving the organization forward. I know, as a marketer or digital channel team member, you’d never dream of buying a technology to “get around” IT. Yeah, right.

If you are on the BI or database analytics side of the house, perhaps you haven’t taken this digital clickstream data too seriously -- until now. This is a scenario that I've seen in some very large and self declared “data driven” organizations.

Digital data is messy and voluminous, and it isn't necessarily clear on how to use it in conjunction with the data that you have: customer and financial data, order history and so forth and how to build marketing and segmentation models. If you’re like many organizations, there has been a silo for digital data and a silo for non-digital data. The digital side of the house has been doing their reporting in a vacuum and there hasn't been much or any discussion of data integration... until the request to “see the 360 degree view” of the customer.

So, how do you break the silos between IT, BI and digital marketing? How do you start working together to achieve cross-channel analytics?

Analytics Leadership via Cross Departmental Team 

In the organizations that I see going in the right direction, there is a core leadership team determining the analytics strategy. Let’s call this team the Analytics Leadership Center of Excellence. Depending on the size of the organization, it is comprised of senior management from marketing, BI, IT and digital analytics. This group sets the course at a strategic level for what the organization needs to achieve through analytics to meet overall business goals. This COE sets the agenda and priorities for what occurs operationally.

For example, I’m working with an organization that has such a team in place. Together they decided on the business objectives for the digital channel and from there started to develop requirements and architecture for their online and offline data and analytics systems. They are determining the priority of the systems to purchase based on budget and business requirements. This informs their decisions on forming an analytics program office and staff hiring.

Rather than focus on point solutions that may or may not fit together, or that may not be well supported, they are viewing the whole analytics infrastructure as a system that needs to be built carefully over time, and rolled out to stakeholders with the training and support that enables actions to be taken from the data.

This approach works when there is an understanding of department strengths and weaknesses. In another example, an organization I work with has a very strong database analytics department with experienced analysts and strong processes around project intake and definition. The digital analytics group lacks the strong processes and recognition inside the company to achieve its potential as a “go to” resource for analytics. These two groups are now discussing how to best leverage existing expertise and processes to build out an analytics capability that encompasses digital and non-digital data in a consistent manner across the organization.

These are just a few examples where marketing, IT, BI are starting to recognize areas for cooperation and collaboration in the areas of analytics. I see the interest in using Big Data for learning more about customers and prospects as a huge opportunity for organizations to start working together in ways that haven’t been thought about too much since the digital channel started to develop 15 years ago.

To borrow a term spoken but not used much here in Washington, DC about Congress, it might be time for you to start “reaching over the aisle” to see how you can develop and act on a comprehensive digital analytics plan with your counterparts in IT, BI, Marketing and Digital Analytics.

Image courtesy of pixelman (Shutterstock)

Editor's Note: This is the first in a regular column by Phil. To read more of his thoughts, check out How to Untangle the Data Deluge