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Why IT offices drop the ball on analytics, and how they can stop

Rachel Wheeler Archive

One of the most challenging aspects of delving into analytics in a business setting is getting a company's IT department to align - in mission and approach - with its marketers. The chief marketing officer at the typical corporation likely has dozens of ideas about how he could improve his practices by gathering more data and analyzing it, but is the IT office on the same page? Chief information officers might have dramatically different goals.

CIOs concern themselves primarily with the more technical aspects - how to dig for knowledge, ensure data quality and so on. But as far as doing the critical thinking and using data to make tangible improvements, that's the marketer's job. And for the moment, there appears to be a bit of a disconnect between the two.

IT's shortcomings with analytics
Harvard Business Review recently went in depth on the question of why exactly IT fumbles analytics. The publication noted that corporate IT offices are putting a lot of resources into the "big data" trend - they're spending on new tools and investing in more talent to overcome the challenges in front of them. But it doesn't seem to be enough.

The problem appears to be a fundamental divide between the two departments. The IT people handle the technology, and the marketers attempt to use it, but there's not enough back-and-forth dialogue about how that process should work. Professors Donald Marchand, of IMD in Switzerland, and Joe Peppard, of Cranfield University in the UK, explained the problem.

"They treat their big data and analytics projects the same way they treat all IT projects - not realizing that the two are completely different animals," the experts stated. "The conventional approach to an IT project, such as the installation of an ERP or a CRM system, focuses on building and deploying the technology on time, to plan, and within budget. The information requirements and technology specifications are established up front, at the design stage, when processes are being reengineered."

All too often, marketers aren't involved in this process, and they don't understand the "why" that goes into building a CRM system. This makes it difficult for them to extract the most valuable information possible from the consumer data clusters at their disposal.

Overcoming corporate challenges
More collaboration is needed for the two teams each to work efficiently. According to ZDNet, the objective is for IT to be a boon for, not a drag on, analytics. Alan Grogan, chief analytics officer at the Royal Bank of Scotland, admits that this poses challenges.

"Technology functions are still finding it difficult to keep up with business demands," Grogan told the news source. "Working in analytics and being responsible for analytics, I can't let that happen. I can't turn around to my CEO or to my customers - or even just if I want to retain staff - to say 'I'm sorry, we just don't have the scalability, the flexibility or the control on the domain.'"

That's why collaboration is vital. Marketers are inevitably going to have long laundry lists of demands for their IT departments, and the two need to stay in constant contact to keep operations moving without interruption.

Grogan added that simply steering clear of analytics is not an option.

"The more data I can give you as a customer, surely the more business you're going to do with me because you know that the decisions I'm giving you are more empirical and more correct," he said.

Indeed - embracing analytics is the key to business competition in the years ahead, and the companies that best align their internal practices will be the ones in position to succeed.