Setting Direction in an Era of Continuous Transformation

Robert Walden, CIO, Epsilon [TO-EPS]
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Robert Walden, CIO, Epsilon [TO-EPS]

Setting strategic direction for an effective marketing plan has always been difficult. Aligning technology strategy with that marketing plan during one of the most disruptive, transformational times in modern history is an incredibly daunting task. We are operating in a world of unparalleled uncertainty and risk, yet performance expectations on every front are at higher levels than ever. We are collecting and processing data at volumes and rates that once seemed unfathomable, we are dealing with cybersecurity threats on a level of complexity and scale that once seemed possible only in science fiction, and we are trying to manage our people through a seismic shift in the way they are doing, and will do, their jobs.

No matter the interaction, our primary goal as marketers and advertisers is to deliver the right content, to the right audience, in the right location, at the right moment. Ensuring the content is structured correctly, the audience has been properly identified, the location is accurate, and the timing is ideal has traditionally been the responsibility of the CMO or marketing function. Ensuring that the applications, workstations, servers, storage devices, network equipment, data centers, connectivity, and service providers are all available and performing as expected, to allow the CMO or marketing function to reach their customers in this way, has traditionally been the responsibility of the CIO or IT function.

  As marketers, everything we do is driven by the data and information we store, transmit, and analyze 

The two worlds have become inseparably bound, and determining where one function begins and the other ends continues to evolve and vary wildly from one organization to another. CMO's are becoming more heavily involved with technology decisions deeper into the application and infrastructure stack, and CIO's are becoming more savvy marketers. What has also become inseparable are marketing and technology strategies. Regardless of how the functions and roles define themselves, in the end we still need to ensure that the right direction is being set. So CMO's and CIO's are asking themselves the same questions: How do I guarantee I am making the right technology investments for the future? How do I best protect my data assets from cybersecurity threats? How do I ensure I am able to provide my clients and customers with the best possible technology experience across channels?

The answer is we need to adjust the lens through which we view technology strategy, and change our mindset around how we define direction. The quicker things change, the more important it is that our strategies are driven by fundamentals that don't. The more complex the landscape becomes, the more we have to simplify.

Data

Today, many technology plans do not include specific language or direction related to the organization’s data assets. Project, application, and infrastructure inventories and tools, are commonplace, but finding an organization with a robust data asset inventory is challenging. Tomorrow, how we manage and govern our data assets will not only be a primary focus and driver of success, it will be the area within which innovation and competitive advantage will flourish most. Those companies that do not adapt and effectively define and incorporate a robust data strategy into their long term plan will flounder. As marketers, everything we do is driven by the data and information we store, transport, and analyze. It is imperative that as we are developing applications, making infrastructure decisions, or designing new marketing campaigns we have a documented and communicated approach for how we classify data, how we monetize data and how we validate the quality and accuracy of our data.

Access

Every executive's “things that keep my up at night” list includes cybersecurity, but for all of its complexities and intricacies information security boils down to controlling and managing access. Often, the problem is information security has become an abstract concept that is managed by a distant eponymously named group, and security strategies and plans are managed separately. We need to distill it down and bring it to the forefront as a foundational planning consideration, as it will become one of the biggest challenges of the digital age. Whether it is access to your data, networks, applications, servers, reports, or environments, you will need a defined an auditable approach that allows you to understand who has access to your solutions, why are they accessing them, what are they accessing, when are they accessing, how are they accessing, and from where are they accessing. But access is not just about security, it is about how we organically design and deliver technology solutions, and how we create the right user experience for the consumers of our content. It is also about maintaining regulatory and contractual compliance.

People

It would be difficult to find a business plan of any kind that does not address the people element. The challenge is that more often than not those plans do not directly address the real issues. Nothing is being impacted more by the churn of digital transformation than your people. It may be the fear of job loss due to automation, the unstable environment following a merger, or the concern that your organization will leverage the emerging global labor market. Whatever the fear may be, it is imperative that you have a proactive approach that addresses questions and lays out a clear path to success for your employees. The notion that everyone is going to be replaced by machines or robots, or most jobs are going to be shifted offshore, is flawed. People are not going to become less important, they are going to become even more important. Yes, jobs will be replaced by automation and jobs will be moved to different locations, but developing talented leaders and empowered decision makers will be crucial to future differentiation and innovation.

The world of marketing technology is evolving and morphing rapidly. No matter who is making the technology decisions to successfully adapt to that change, we need to augment our direction and long-term plans to effectively address our data, access, and people challenges. Failure to appropriately do so will lead to higher operating costs, decreased quality, increased risk, unnecessary service disruptions, and unhappy employees. Take some time to review your plan and validate that it will help safeguard your organization's ability to collect data, produce insights, drive engagement, and increase revenue for years to come.

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