When things go right with the web or social media, marketing takes the credit. But any slip-ups and IT is the culprit, says the Naked CIO.

I am constantly changing my mind about where web, social networking and consumer intelligence sit in the modern business. I still have no clear view whether IT should be the owner of these technologies, yet I see dangerous pitfalls if it isn’t.

Do I really want the headache of managing services for emerging social networking strategies? Moreover, is a website a functional gateway into an integrated applications layer or is it rather just another brand and marketing vehicle to expose products and services to clients?

Truth is it is both and always will be. If you have dealt with senior marketing executives as I do, you’ll know it is a relentless struggle when it comes to ownership and accountability.

All too often IT has accountability without ownership. That contradiction means if it breaks, we are at fault, but if it does the job, marketing is the benefactor. Usually product and technology development of these tools is an afterthought. “By the way, can our web servers handle a 100 per cent increase in volume?” is one question I remember being asked days before a launch of a new promotion.

What also concerns me about this turf war is that in most cases the benefits of technology that supports these systems and the applications that drive functionality to them can be beneficial elsewhere in the business.

But the marketing business unit doesn’t address this fact in its development strategy. Thus standards are rarely met, code is not reusable and functional development is myopic in nature.

Take, for example, the growing use by marketing of modelling designed to show the likelihood of consumers purchasing specific products or services. These propensity-to-purchase models make predictions about consumer attitudes. In most organisations they are owned and managed by the marketers. After all they are a vehicle to generate more targeted business results.

social media – who's responsibility is it?

Who’s in charge of social media in your company?
(Photo credit: Shutterstock)

However, the overriding challenge is the deployment, management and construction of a consumer data environment that enables these propensity models to operate and allows campaign systems to execute.

In my experience marketing people do not know data or, more specifically, how to organise and structure data in a way to make it useful. So once again the lines of ownership and accountability blur. The only likely outcome is poor results and IT being charged as the culprit.

It doesn’t help that many data specialists in IT lack a fundamental understanding of how businesses can use consumer data.

So what is the answer to this problem, which is likely to become more entrenched as online and social networking strategies grow in importance? I wish it were simple. I have just left a meeting that turned into a boasting match about data strategy. A heated discussion without a consensus or a plausible outcome.

Yet IT and marketing work in the spirit of partnership, for the same cause and both functions are trying to improve the same business. Why is it so hard? Perhaps it is because IT and marketing are both cultures with a lot of control freaks.

In any event, one thing is essential if you and your IT department want to remain sane: develop a good relationship with marketing and work with them, regardless of the ownership issues.

This approach is the only way of creating a strategy to which you are both committed and which has a chance of achieving results. After all, if you can’t beat them – join them.