Tuesday, November 8, 2011

A Marketing Lesson For IT

In an earlier post of mine, "An Image Makeover for IT" I shared about a surprising meeting I'd had with our IT department -- where they were looking to learn how to better market their services within the company. I felt that this was a harbinger for the "New IT", and I think I was right...

Then last week I was given a draft Data Sheet by EMC's IT department.Whoa, you say. A Data Sheet? Isn't IT supposed to operate down there in the bowels of the data center keeping the "lights on"?

As you know, EMC's IT group has been progressive, from their virtualization initiative to building an internal Private Cloud for the company, to organizing for success, to marketing themselves as if they were a competitive service provider. Which is just the way more IT groups will have to think.

Why would IT Want To Market Themselves?
If IT is to think more "competitively" then they need to organize and act competitively, including driving demand/consumption for their services. This isn't about internal politics (validating their annual budget) but rather about driving awareness, demand, and preference for their services. Because IT's new competition is "shadow IT", the advancing commercialization of IT. More simple-to-use, aggressively priced external services are being offered to users who are accustomed to the convenience.  So IT finds itself having to do the same.

And there is the education component too... because while the enterprise consumer might want to compare internal vs. external services purely based on price (think: AWS, DropBox, MobileMe), IT has to show that there are hidden costs to these: Risk exposure, inability to prove compliance, cost of securing data, etc. etc. So IT turning to traditional marketing devices isn't all that odd in the final analysis.

A Data Sheet for IT...
Back to the Data Sheet I received. The IT dept did their homework - Like all good product marketing summaries, it included components to project leadership and to drive demand:
  • Service components: In this case, it is an IaaS style service, replete with the value proposition. It defined the service, the pain-points it alleviates, and why internal EMC engineers should consider using it.
  • Overall Value: IT also did a great job of illustrating the *total value* of the service - not just economic value, but the value of agility (time-to-provision) and convenience.
  • Value of Risk Avoidance: Some marketers like to market to the paranoid... in this case, IT illustrated the risks of not using an IT-sourced service.Security, compliance, SLAs, etc.
  • Competitive comparison: In particular, I like the fact that the internal private-cloud based service full-up cost was compared to that of popular public cloud providers. It illustrated that the actual cost of external services isn't always just the bare-bones hourly cost on your credit card...
  • Availability roadmap: I also like the fact that IT set expectations with its customers. What's available now, and what new services/features will be available when.
  • And a little bit of Esprit de Corps:Yep, good old pride in what the company is doing, and how the IT department is helping drive the top-line business. 
...And Enabled By New Roles, New Skills
If IT is to succeed as a "competitive" provider to the enterprise, simply publishing a Data Sheet is just one deliverable in a larger story. The organization needs to think, act, and hire like an internal service provider - and ask itself "How do successful SP's drive business demand?"

The process begins with a cultural and leadership shift to a desire to act not as an internal (monopolistic) cost center, and more like a competitive business catering to the varying demands of its internal customers. This is a CIO-level decision, often done in partnership with LoB's and even with the CMO.

And who executes on this new approach? What new functions need to sediment into IT? Well, it's not about technology skills anymore. Rather, IT will need to acquire traditional business and marketing skills. A few suggestions:
  • Develop In-bound and out-bound Marketing: This refers to classical Inbound product management (listens externally to customer needs, and helps determine product features, plans, pricing - and classical product marketing, helping drive external awareness, preference and demand. In both cases here, Inbound/outbound functions work as closely with internal lines-of-business to understand their needs, roadmaps and futures.
  • Initiate client "relationship management": Somewhat akin to a "sales" function, these individuals are assigned to sit closely-aligned with business users of IT, and work closely with in-bound product management. These folks detect leading indicators  of how IT can better serve the business, and look for ways to add value either with competitive technology, services or analysis.
  • Include Pricing and Financial Management: Pricing and costing of services is a shift away from tallying-up gross capital and operational expenses, with a move instead towards activity-based costing. The ability to discern the true usage-based cost of an IT service means that the organization can better align supply with demand, and make better buy-vs-build decisions. This "financial transparency" allows the CIO, CFO, and Lines-of-Business to make better overall decisions regarding using IT to support the enterprise.
If IT is to be competitive, it has to act competitive. Marketing of IT is far from the only shift that needs to be done - and arguably, it probably follows shifts in IT technology and IT operations. But marketing IT is nonetheless an illustrative example of what is to come with a larger IT transformation initiative.

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