At the heart of creating a unified conversation across all digital channels are three core technology areas: web content management, e-commerce and mobile platforms. Each of these areas has its own nuances, but it’s the aggregate -- the integration of all three -- that will determine a brand’s ability to prosper in the age of the customer.

CMOs and CTOs are being asked to work together like never before to solve the technology integration riddle in order to achieve high levels of engagement, personalization and loyalty.

Paolo Yuvienco, Global CTO of DigitasLBi puts it this way:

Today’s customers demand an always-on, unified experience with the brands they identify with. Whether they’re looking at a web property on their mobile, tablet or desktop, it needs to feel like part of the same conversation. On the technology backend, that’s difficult to do and we need to lean on deep infrastructure expertise to make it happen.”

The Omnichannel Imperative

According to research firm Gleanster, 62 percent of brand marketers cite changing customer preferences and channel proliferation as their current top challenges. And just 4 percent of companies in a recent IBM study (pdf) rated the multichannel customer experience associated with their own brand as "excellent."

But why is cross channel engagement and consistency so difficult?

One set of answers is cultural and one set of answers is driven by technology.

On the cultural front, it’s only with the advent of the digital marketing era that marketing and IT have had to work so closely together. As the infrastructure is chosen, built out and integrated, there needs to be constant collaboration among very different stakeholders -- the CMO, the CTO and the CIO.

The CMO brings a vision that revolves around growth and customer engagement while the CTO is driven by technology design, architecture and infrastructure. The CIO is often brought in during large re-platforming projects to ensure security, integration and IT governance. Even if the brand uses a third-party infrastructure provider, it’s the CIO who is usually responsible for uptime and compliance. This cross-functional collaboration is a fairly recent development and the vastly different backgrounds of these executives can sometimes impede progress.

On the technology front, there are numerous reasons why integrating infrastructure to generate a seamless, omnichannel experience is difficult. Some of them include:

  • Digital customer expectations: Today’s consumers demand seamless navigation, fast load times, highly customized content and 100 percent availability.
  • A shortage of the right technical expertise: Some brands may have large teams of traditional IT specialists (those resources we most associate with “keeping the lights on” rather than digital innovation) but few engineers and architects with the right skillset. These brands may find it difficult to find internal talent to solve cross-system problems of integration and think through a long-term digital infrastructure strategy.
  • Resource constraints to manage new infrastructure: Even if the brand has the right talent in place to solve complex problems around infrastructure, it may not have enough of it. According to a recent survey, there are two posted IT jobs for every qualified candidate.
  • Complexity: There is no single, integrated infrastructure solution that will bring all the supporting systems together. This means that brands have to spend a lot of time evaluating their digital strategy, assessing the marketplace for contributing solutions and working out whether they can integrate and host their solutions in-house or whether they need to partner externally. The technology landscape around core engagement systems -- content management, e-commerce, mobile platforms -- is constantly changing, making it difficult for brands to stay on the cutting edge.
  • Legacy infrastructure impedes advancement: A brand’s road to innovation might be impeded by disparate applications and platforms running out-of-date technologies. Some global companies have opted to build new future-ready, cloud-aware applications rather than trying to overhaul their older “legacy” applications.
  • Performance drain: The very qualities that make content engaging (high degree of personalization, rich/multi-media, increased localization) also make it a drain on the infrastructure that underlies it. Content Delivery Networks, the ability to burst into the cloud for peak traffic, and the PCI compliance that can only be found on dedicated servers are all challenges to sustaining consistent performance while keeping budgets in check.