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Tech Data, PSCU, BlueGrace build bridges between IT, marketing teams

Margie Manning

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From left: Marie Chinnici-Everitt, Pablo Zurzolo, Matt Kemp, John Tonnison, Dave Stafford, Tom Pierce

At many companies, there has been a historic tension between the teams that build technology products and the teams that sell them.

It’s time to throw out that old paradigm, technology and marketing leaders from three leading Tampa-St. Pete companies suggested during Tampa Bay Business & Wealth’s recent TECH Connect event.

“Firms that have the ability to harness data and technology to support their marketing efforts are going to be in the best position to understand client needs and to be able to deliver an enhanced experience that not only wins hearts and minds but really produces more sales and bottom line growth, which is what it is all about,” said Marie Chinnici-Everitt, managing director and chief marketing officer, Depository Trust & Clearing Corp., a financial service provider, and head of DTCC’s Tampa office.

The key to collaboration is the relationship between the chief information officer and the chief marketing officer, said Chinnici-Everitt, who moderated a panel discussion featuring the CIOs and CMOs from  Tech Data (Nasdaq: TECD), PSCU and Blue Grace Logistics.

Here are excerpts from that conversation, with some comments edited for brevity and clarity.

Chinnici-Everitt: A lot of times, people will focus on technology because it’s new, it’s interesting, but it’s not a substitute for a good strategy. That point sometimes gets lost. Do you ever encounter times in your firms when technology is viewed as a solution to every problem and it becomes a substitute for strategy? If that is the case, how do you combat that?

Tonnison: No. Our alignment of both functions to our business strategy is clear. We exist to enable and power clearly defined strategies. For the last couple of years, our global corporate strategy has four pillars. One of them is digital transformation, and I’m privileged to lead that for the organization. Digital transformation is not supplementing or instead of a business strategy. It’s part of our company strategy.

Stafford: In the case of PSCU, as we were building out our data practice, starting in 2005, building data warehouse and so forth, it was primarily a technology-led initiative. We built a big stack with a lot of data and data scientists and data governance folks. Just a few years ago, we got to the point where we felt it was being dominated by our tech folks, so we spun that off into a separate division. It’s a business unit of its own that enables the product group and the marketing group and the tech group. That’s probably a bit unique in our industry.

Pierce:  Dave builds it.  We commercialize it.

Kemp: In our industry, historically technology hasn’t been on the front edge. We’re doing logistics, which is a fairly messy business with a lot of manual processes. There are some new entrants into our industry that because they have immediately adopted technology such as digital freight-matching have gotten a lot of buzz and high valuations. We would probably disagree that technology is the panacea to solving the world’s trucking problems. Technology can be used to automate manual process, but there’s always going to need to be relationships with the customers and carrier we have in our business, and that’s where we see our value.

Zurzolo: As marketers, we are often challenged to show tangible benefits for the investments we make in technology. You just have to have the courage to do it. At Tech Data, nothing gets signed off on that doesn’t have both an alignment to the strategy and also a tangible revenue or profit criteria.

Chinnici-Everitt: I talked earlier about the importance of collaboration between the CIO and CMO. How would you characterize your working relationships?

Zurzolo: I’ve had two careers at Tech Data. I was here for nine years, left for about 10 years and then came back five years ago. When I came back, my predecessors had developed an unintentional brand as being the shadow IT guys. They bought a bunch of stuff without caring about how the IT department would view that investment, or if it was risking us from a cyber point of view. JT said, you guys are the shadow IT guys and you have to change that.

I would say the way that’s developed is even more critical now when you think about GDPR [General Data Protection Regulation} and CASL [Canadian Anti-Span Law] and other privacy compliance issues that we have as marketers that change the way we do digital marketing. The only other person who cares as much about security and privacy as I do is JT and the IT org. I think we’ve been forced into having to work together, but in the past I don’t know that it was the most positive relationship.

IT was more worried about making sure things got executed 99.9 percent of the time and I was more worried about where is the ad going to be, how is it going to be seen and how are we going to track it. Sometimes those were at odds, but one of the things JT did early on from a digital commerce point of view was to make sure his digital leader and the marketing digital leader were aligned in design. So it wasn’t that marketing was designing without IT, or IT was designing without marketing. We were designing together and I think that’s a really critical, probably transformational step, that we all probably have to take.

Tonnison: As we set up this panel, there were some assumptions that CMOs and CIOs had some naturally tense relationships and that doesn’t resonate with me at all. It’s our marketing, our agency side, that is doing the more dramatic and transformational stuff with big data in our company. Other parts of the company are consuming and adopting and enjoying better access to data and a slightly more federated approach to which systems to use, but they’re not doing incredibly disruptive things with it. It is our marketing side doing that in the Americas and in Europe. That allows us to showcase new capabilities in ways that are exciting to work on, to demonstrate and to put power and value behind it. I consider the marketing organization and the IT relationship to be one of the most effective ones.

Kemp: I can’t really argue with myself, so what I’ve done in many different places is to segment resources so I don’t have to argue with myself. Building a system like the website where we would do more traditional marketing to get people’s attention. The website is managed by marketing 100 percent. Separate from that, I have to put on my marketing hat and walk down the hall and explain to the people in IT that just because something works, doesn’t mean it works well, and we do not want stories of people not using our systems because they didn’t work well.

Pierce: I joined PSCU 18 months ago as part of a transformational change. I was the first to come in from outside in marketing in a while, so they wanted to make sure I could navigate the culture of PSCU. They assigned a mentor to me, and it was the IT guy. It’s worked well. We still meet every couple of weeks.

Stafford: As Tom said, it’s worked out very well. He and I communicate very effectively and we’re happy to have the partnership. We intersect primarily through the data group and the product team. My team builds the products and Tom’s team markets them. We find there’s a lot of synergy in being to talk that actively and openly.

Chinnici-Everitt: One hotbed of contention frequently is the speed at which the IT department can address marketing’s request for technology support. How can CIOs and CMOs become true partners when making technology investment decisions?

Stafford: I think we’re a little unique. We’ve actually been able to develop product more quickly than we’ve been able to develop adoption. At this point, we have a lot of product on the shelf that is not heavily adopted, which is a luxury. It gives the marketing group a challenge, to use what we’ve got.

Pierce: I mentioned this transformative approach to marketing. We created a cross-company team to execute adoption efforts. We have it built. Now we have to get it into people’s hands.

Tonnison:  Historically tensions have been real. Good marketing functions have a number of plates spinning and a number of experiments and that’s incredibly healthy. Project-based centralized IT functions will serve that badly.

I think we’re at a cool time in the way that society and businesses are re-thinking and re-engaging with their view of technology. If any company at this point is thinking that technology is a department, they’re at least 50 years behind. Digital at this point has got to be part of every business leaders’ core capability.

The unblocking capability is for the innovation tech organizations to become the enablers, the counsel, the binding function to keep connected ideas of privacy and security and re-usability and global reuse. But the way it will be most effectively done is when innovation tech is enabling operating units like the CMO’s organization to do that experimentation themselves, with help and assistance and support.

You hear the word shadow IT used. I call it satellite IT. Shadow IT has a negative connotation. Satellite IT is about getting it done in connected, distributed ways. On the marketing side, that needs to be done because of their need to experiment.

Zurzolo: The systems we use within Tech Data on the marketing side are third-party. One of the ways that has changed is bringing IT in at the beginning of the problem. I go to them and say, I’ve got a problem. Here’s some vendors who might be able to solve it but if you’ve got a better idea, and can do it yourself, or think it is too risky and want to do it internally, let’s work together on that. Rather than going to them and saying I want to use this – Salesforce or whatever, and I want you to support it —  now we are bring them into that decision and say here’s the problem we are trying to solve. That’s a better partnership that maybe didn’t exist in the past.

Chinnici-Everitt: What are some practical tips on how you can build a stronger bridge between marketing and IT?

Zurzolo: I think it’s having the leadership be honest about what you need and what you’re not getting. If it’s always finger-pointing, you’re never going to get anywhere. JT and his organization have built a layer of consultants, and their job is to know my business and what I need. That should be the way business is always transacted.

Kemp: I try to bring another person into the conversation from the sales side. On marketing, my sole purpose is to drive sales. In IT, we have systems that support employees and also the customers. So I usually create a triangle, and bring in the sales team and ask what they need.

Tonnison: It helps that marketing use cases can be pretty cool. It’s the part of the business that has massive data.

We’re a trade-to-trade business. We sell to resellers. We have a great deal of information about their customers, too. We have hundreds of millions of data points, and it’s turning that into science that creates some fun use cases. If you want to know how to get the best service out of an innovation tech organization, it’s to give them a fun assignment, not redoing accounting things they did 40 years ago.

In this era of digital transformation, you start first with the customer experience. You try to defocus on serving your own enterprise and focus on the needs of the customer, and then your own interest will be well-served. As soon as you think about that, you better know about the customer, so the connection between IT and marketing characterizes this new need of working and designing in the light of the customer probably better than any other group.

Pierce: In our case, it’s about us both talking the talk and walking the walk. Our teams see the relationships Dave and I have and it breaks any barriers for the rest of the team. There had been previous animosities, but having that regular conversation really helps.

Stafford: Decentralization of technology implies there’s a trust model. Pushing design concepts back to the business units and the folks who represent the end customer. This is an old concept, but the groups that build the product need to be cross-functional and represent all areas of the company. Technology is just a player in those groups. The more you push that kind of decision-making out into a satellite model, the more it builds trust and collaboration, and it’s a very effective approach.

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