Big Data From Both Sides: CMOs, CIOs Speak Out

The lines between IT and marketing are blurring in the age of digital marketing. For that reason, it's more important than ever that CMOs and CIOs communicate consistently and effectively. To examine this evolving relationship as it pertains to big data, in particular, partnered with to produce this report.

It’s a sign of the digital marketing times that CMOs now spend more on technology than any other corporate officer outside the CIO’s office. And the biggest driver of that tech spending is big data, which accounts for 37 percent of the marketing technology budget, according to member-based advisory group CEB.

Yet, as with many technology projects, CIOs and CMOs may not always see eye to eye on big data strategy and tactics. According to a recent Accenture survey of more than 1,100 senior marketing and IT executives, 40 percent of CMOs said they believe their companies’ IT teams don’t understand the urgency of integrating new data sources into campaigns to address market conditions. At the same time, 43 percent of CIOs said that marketing requirements and priorities change too often for them to keep up.

However, a strong partnership between IT and marketing is crucial if big data and analytics are to succeed. “Data is king,” said Adobe CIO Gerri Martin-Flickinger. “Data is what brings us together.”

CMOs may increasingly take the lead on big data projects, but CIOs are the key to implementing, maintaining, and scaling these solutions. “Marketing is the driver of the big data car,” said Todd Merry, CMO of global hospitality and food service company Delaware North, “but it doesn't go anywhere without IT.”

Even more so than with other tech projects, CIOs and CMOs need each other to deliver actionable insight with big data and emerging data collection and analytics tools.

“The CIO brings the expertise in determining the quality of the data, as well as the process of acquiring and analyzing it; the CMO brings the expertise of how the data can be utilized to drive business decisions. The CIO brings the knowledge of what’s possible—or could soon be possible—through technology, while the CMO pushes IT further by asking the right questions, giving them the right ideas, and pushing them to find a way,” said Anne Park Hopkins, senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s CIO Practice. “This responsibility to leverage data to drive the business strategy and business decisions, however, is shared.”

How does all of this work in practice? and spoke to a diverse group of CMOs and CIOs about how they work together to transform marketing with big data and analytics tools, how they ensure that big data is actionable, and what they need from each other to get big data right.   

Defining The Big Data RolesWhen it comes to analytics, the CIO and the CMO must explicitly agree on “who owns the initiatives, the role each leader will take on, and when and how they are expected to work together,” said Chris Curran, chief technologist for PwC’s advisory practice.

At biotech company Biogen Idec, for example, IT and marketing are exploring ways in which they can bring together wearable devices, patient relationship management, and big data to understand not just the broad patient population, but the individual patient.

“This can help us understand not only how patients treat their diseases differently, but also how they respond to treatment differently, both physiologically and as a function of genetics,” said Greg Meyers, Biogen Idec’s vice president of information technology. “This is meaningful not only to how we market our products, but how we research both current and future therapies.”

To do that, both marketing and IT must be clear about what each brings to the table. “In my view, big data/advanced analytics is a three-legged stool,” said Meyers, who also spent a good portion of his career in marketing.

The first leg is math—linear algebra, calculus, discrete math, and statistics. IT and marketing must build such skills jointly. The second leg is computer science. “Many of the technologies now available to us, like Hadoop/MapReduce and NoSQL databases, are inaccessible without some hard-core coding,” Meyers said. “These skills are often already in IT.”

The third leg is a contextual understanding of the business. “While IT is getting better at being embedded in the business, for a marketing project it’s crucial that marketing, not IT, is clear on formulating the questions or hypotheses it is trying to uncover with analytics and what decisions will be made with the answers,” Meyers said.

Adobe's Martin-Flickinger said she has focused on building a closer partnership with marketing in the past couple of years, during which time the company moved from a packaged software model, focused on big product release cycles, to a subscription service, where a personalized approach is critical to acquiring and retaining customers day to day.

To accomplish that, “on the IT side, we stich all data sources together and provide a foundational platform. On the marketing side, they consume that data and use it to drive the customer experience,” Martin-Flickinger explained. “We’re not focused on how to make marketing successful or how to make IT successful, but how to make the company successful.”

At Delaware North, IT makes sure all analytical capabilities work as advertised and provides the infrastructure, tools, and technical acumen necessary for marketers to accomplish their big data and analytics goals and objectives, said CIO Kevin Quinlivan. But because it’s such a large and diverse company—Delaware North serves half a billion customers, from its own destination resorts and national parks to TD Garden and the Kennedy Space Center destination—marketing and IT divide and conquer when it comes to look for new big data opportunities.

“It's often the marketers out in the field looking for new and innovative ways to employ big data and analytics, while IT continues to innovate the tools at the center of the organization,” Quinlivan said.

Starting At The FinishToday’s enterprise is swimming in data that could enable marketing transformation, but transforming that data into knowledge has proved difficult.

“Businesses need actionable insights across all channels,” said Eddie Short, head of KPMG’s Insights Labs. “These so-called ‘moments of truth’ are critical in building the customer experience, and that means having the right data and predictive analytics to be prepared for key customer interactions that could lead to cross-sell, upsell, or just having a truly engaged conversation with your customer.”

The problem is that many organizations put the technology before the business problem they’re actually trying to solve. “It's often easy to get mesmerized by the vastness of big data or the capabilities of the tools in the market today. Who hasn't been captivated by a beautiful bit of data visualization or the distillation of mountains of data?” Delaware North’s Merry said. “To keep you grounded, you have to go back to two simple words: So what?”

For Merry, sports data tempts his restraint. “Is it fun to know that across a whole season we sell more hot dogs when Player X is at bat versus Player Y? It sure is, and we could hypothesize all day as to why that is, but it's not really relevant to our business or our clients,” Merry said.

CIOs can provide a good check on the business value of the latest shiny big data tool and force CMOs to put the business outcome first. “Marketing is often used to taking quick action and getting quick results,” Biogen Idec’s Meyers said. “Since much of this is still so new and the technology is still so immature, it’s important that we focus on the handful of things that really matter, spend the time together to work through an experiment, and scale it up to something that can be sustainable for the long haul.”

“CMOs and marketing organizations need to hone their focus on both the business questions they need answered and the decisions they want to inform with analytics,” added Suzanne Kounkel, principal and leader of Deloitte Consulting’s customer transformation practice. Without that emphasis on the end result, marketers often ask IT to aggregate, store, and create data marts that host all available customer data, which is both costly and risky.

“As a result, data aggregation often becomes a bottleneck due again to the volume and velocity of digital data today, and the CMO can inadvertently task the CIO to create an extreme data environment,” Kounkel said.

“Big data engineers can pull swarms of data about a company’s current and future customers, yet not all of this information is valuable for a CMO,” said Samer Forzley, vice president of marketing at Pythiana big data consulting company whose customers include Urban Outfitters and FOX Sports. “Instead of going overboard with the quantity of data, CMOs need to focus on quality and only seek information that they can directly transform into sales.”

Taking A Critical Look At Big Data VendorsMarketing’s big data requirements can put a lot of stress on already-overloaded IT organizations. At Delaware North, marketing and IT have been working together for the past 30 years, but big data has put a particular strain on the relationship, sapping IT systems and resources. “It also introduces a new set of vendors and partners, often disrupting existing IT relationships,” CIO Quinlivan said.

Marketing can ease some of the CIO’s stress by approaching the big data ecosystem of suppliers in a more focused way. “It’s not uncommon for marketing to want to use many different agencies and buy many different off-the-shelf tools for different jobs,” Biogen Idec’s Meyers said. “We try to show them the value of having inputs in as few places as possible. The more diverse your data sources, the harder it is to extract something useful.”

Marketing leaders also should take advantage of investments already made by IT. “Small ‘boutique’ solutions are often incompatible with enterprisewide tools, making it often very difficult to access insights from elsewhere in the organization,” KPMG’s Short said. “CMOs should not try to re-create the wheel by building their own systems since these tools and capabilities likely exist already and can be provisioned by IT.”

IT leaders can guide marketers through this emerging landscape. “The CIO can educate the marketing team on the possible and how to achieve the possible with data and analytics,” Korn Ferry’s Hopkins said.

At Western Union, John “David” Thompson, executive vice president of global operations and technology and CIO, said he sees his role as one of technology sherpa for CMO Diane Scott and her marketing team. “We see them bump up against a challenge, and we try to dig in and help them solve it,” Thompson said. “We’re their technology consultants.”

Opening UpIn order to provide that guidance, Thompson and his team must anticipate marketing’s needs before they have them. Developing tools and systems that support Western Union’s 700 million transactions a year and deliver a unique customer experience to its hundreds of millions of customers is a challenge.

“My team and I are highly engaged with marketing to understand the things they’re trying to do to drive revenue, increase customer satisfaction, and reduce costs,” Thompson said. “We have to stay one step ahead of them in order to stay abreast of the technology.”

Thompson’s team takes marketing’s strategic plan and extends it out two or three years so that IT can build the appropriate infrastructure to support big data efforts and bring new capabilities to bear.

CMOs can better position the IT group to support big data plans by being open. “My counterparts in IT truly want one thing from me above all else: transparency,” said Hope Neiman, chief marketing officer of Tillster. “The more both teams can see the truth in the situation, understand what we’re doing, and grasp the impact that each team brings to the client, the more they want to collaborate for the common goal.”

In addition, CMOs can connect the dots for CIOs, making clear how new-business initiatives are linked with enterprise and big data knowledge around customer experience and behaviors, said Katherine Lee, senior client partner in Korn Ferry’s CMO practice.

At Adobe, a new marketing analytics group holds meetings every Monday, and IT is always in attendance. “IT has to understand the context of the business to better understand data layer being consumed,” Martin-Flickinger explained.

Syncsort CMO Gary Survis said he sees himself as marketing educator-in-chief for the IT group at the big data solutions company. “Marketing has changed dramatically in the last few years. We are being held accountable for results as never before, for the ability to understand our performance, for diagnostically identifying opportunities and for making rapid changes to strategy based on analytics,” Survis said. “Part of my job is to educate the entire organization, including IT, about what this new normal is for marketing.”

Share everything, Delaware North’s Merry advised—not just what’s coming next month, but what’s coming next year. “I let my CIO know what we are trying to achieve, why, and what the desired outcome and KPIs are,” Merry said. “And to share the success, I make sure that our leaders know that anything we, as marketing, achieve in this area couldn’t have been done without IT.”

“To become a more effective partner to marketing, the CIO should meet regularly with the CMO to understand the analytics issues marketing is dealing with and offer practical ways to address these, not just the technology, but also from a process optimization perspective,” added Jonathan Block, vice president of technology at B2B advisory firm SiriusDecisions.

Never Say NeverJust as CMOs must learn to open up around big data, CIOs must learn not to shut marketing down. That can be a tall order in this risky, emerging area of technology. “The easiest thing for marketing to do is look at IT as the department of ‘no,’ where every request for new technology is met with resistance,” Syncsort’s Survis said. “It isn’t secure enough. It isn’t robust enough. It isn’t compatible with our infrastructure.”

At Tillster, there have been instances where the marketing team has wanted to implement competing tool sets. “In those situations, both departments weigh the risks and rewards, using one guiding light: ensuring the clients’ needs come first,” Neiman said. “With this beacon, we have yet to have a problem where marketing and IT couldn’t reach an amicable solution."

Delaware North CMO Merry said he wants an IT organization that’s open to new analytics initiatives and can partner with marketing to manage such cutting-edge projects. But marketing and IT don’t always agree. “Like any good partnership, any differences end in a negotiation—but an informed negotiation,” CIO Quinlivan said.

If marketing wants real-time access to its customer data and models, Quinlivan doesn’t say no. He might explain that going from near real-time to real-time doubles the cost of the infrastructure. The CMO may counter and explain the business cost of the one-minute lag in data. “This dynamic tension is healthy and productive as long as information is shared,” Quinlivan said.

Biogen Idec’s Meyers said he has invested in IT professionals that see themselves as part of the marketing team.

“We need to be speaking the same language and mutually guided by the same compass,” he said. “Too often, the geeks in IT like to talk about Markov chains, feature vectorization, and edge-nodes on graphs. Marketing simply wants to know in a straightforward way whether or not competitors are having any impact influencing our customers, or how patients in social media are perceiving a new product.  We do our best to apply the computing, mathematics, and our contextual understanding of the business to answer these questions in the most straightforward way possible.”

Still, there are times when IT might think marketing is off-base. But, Meyers said, “it’s almost always because a request is showing up as a solution which isn’t the right solution. If you decompose the request, it’s usually grounded in a legitimate problem that’s worth solving together.”

Starting Small And Building MomentumPersonalizing the customer experience using data from more than 20 internal and external sources is critical to Adobe’s success. All executive are focused on it. But in the beginning, it was important to launch a first attempt at such customer analytics under the radar, CIO Martin-Flickinger said.

“You have to start small and start crisp,” she said, pointing to the first proof-of-concept creating three customer personas using four data sources. “It wasn’t ambitious, but it showed us how to build the process and how to work together. We did it quietly without the eyes of the executive team on us.”

The result? Double-digit conversion rates. Then it was time to advertise the success internally and slowly build upon it. “This is not the kind of thing where you put a big multiyear plan together,” Martin-Flickinger explained. “You show something quickly—not a lot of money, not a lot of people—and you prove your hypothesis.”

Using agile processes can create a multidisciplinary approach to big data that forms dedicated teams with the right people no matter where they sit in the organization, PwC’s Curran said. Yet, according to a recent survey, only 29 percent of organizations use agile development.

In the past year, Western Union CMO Diane Scott said she has been making a strategic investment in how the company uses big data to improve the customer experience. “There’s a huge opportunity to create an omnichannel journey for our customers and leverage data in a much more predictive way than ever before,” Scott said.

As part of its “Eagle Eye” program, which rewards Western Union agents who are able to prevent fraud, marketing is developing predictive analytics to help those agents identify suspicious patterns. That kind of advanced use of analytics requires agile development, said CIO Thompson. “Whenever we have a marketing initiative, we form a SWAT team to go after the issues,” he said. “Projects where you have 10 percent of a business leader’s time puts all the burden on IT.”

Throwing requirements over a fence doesn’t work with big data and analytics solutions, which require many iterations to get right.

“It requires more effort from them. They’re doing their day job of marketing, and they also have to spend time reviewing and being a part of designing a solution,” Thompson said. “[But] in the process, they’re learning about technology processes and are better able to define their requirements for our engineers. And we’re learning about more marketing. They’re able to define requirements better for our engineers. And that, in turn, opens up a whole new realm of big data.”

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