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The Secret Weapon: Internal Marketing

The Secret Weapon: Internal Marketing

It's the best kept secret for success: Marketing IT's achievements will boost its credibility, create transparency and might even help win instant approval for your next $2 million project.

In 2001, a member of the senior leadership team at Harley-Davidson, invited to an IT town hall meeting to articulate business leadership's view of the IT function, described it as "a big black box that you pour lots of money into and pray good things come out". For IT co-leaders Laurel Tschurwald and Reid Engstrom, the black box metaphor was a painful wake-up call. "We had always thought that everyone knew what we were doing and valued our contributions," says Tschurwald. In response, the two launched a campaign to demystify IT. They brought in senior business people to review and manage all IT project requests. They initiated internal service-level agreements, IT financial audits and quality-improvement programs. And to make sure everyone heard about the value IT was delivering, they started publicizing their efforts in quarterly "enterprise status reports". The reports recap each initiative's business case, strategic alignment and associated metrics, and summarize the status of every project valued above $US100,000. It's a "key marketing vehicle," Engstrom freely admits.

The idea of marketing IT makes a lot of CIOs nervous. Sure, they're willing to treat their business colleagues as customers, and some have no qualms about charging those same customers for IT services. But launching a campaign to trumpet IT's value, communicate its costs, and promote its products and services? Well, that feels a little too hucksterish to your average IT executive. Besides, who has excess money lying around to invest in marketing?

But marketing IT internally may be the secret ingredient fuelling CIOs' efforts to run IT like a business. We say secret because on average, less than half of the CIOs who say they run businesslike IT shops are actually taking advantage of marketing, according to the CIO (US) survey "How to Run IT Like a Business". Yet, those respondents who have attained such prized and elusive benefits as enterprisewide visibility of IT value and cost, improved customer loyalty and increased IT staff productivity do more marketing than does the general survey population - in fact, as much as 25 percent more. These IT leaders are building thematic, targeted campaigns around IT initiatives and branding projects to increase awareness and build momentum and buy-in. And they're using a range of communication vehicles to bring the message home that IT is run like a business - one that brings verifiable value to the enterprise.

"Marketing is absolutely critical to being internally successful," says Stephen Norman, COO of Merrill Lynch's technology group. "We live in a world where by and large our customers don't understand what we do. So we need to market internally to have a shot at building partnerships and avoiding surprises."

Steve Sheinheit, CIO of MetLife, agrees. "That we have to communicate and market is a fact of life," he says. "If you want to get resources and support, you have to sell your message. Marketing and communications is a natural part of doing business."

Communicating IT's contribution to the business is especially critical given the increasingly tempting siren song of outsourcers. Marketing hype and slick campaigns from offshore vendors and consultants help make outsourcing look mighty appealing on paper. But internal IT organizations may actually provide more services at a better value. IT leaders just haven't taken time to clearly define, price and package their services in an equally appealing format.

Making sure the business is well aware of the IT team's accomplishments also provides IT the credibility it needs to win approval for unglamorous infrastructure investments and the goodwill to weather inevitable storms. "In technology, you always have issues," says Joe Gottron, The Huntington National Bank's CIO. "If you've got nothing to balance the noise in issues, guess what? People are only going to remember the issues. And it won't be long before lights out, game over."

But be forewarned. Marketing will come off as a lot of hot air - and could even damage IT's reputation - if CIOs haven't built an organization that can consistently deliver the goods. And there's a fine line between effectively promoting IT's contributions and tooting your own horn.

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