When marketing and IT goals conflict, collaborative environments ease the tension

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Most organizational discussions about one-to-one customer communications focus on the marketing aspect of this mission-critical endeavor. Companies know they need to reach targeted customer segments and provide relevant, focused content and messaging. The tasks of identifying target segments and defining marketing campaigns present many challenges. However, the greatest obstacle is often in the successful implementation of enterprisewide, real-time solutions.

This critical task resides in the IT (information technology) organization; however, within many companies, the relationship between marketing and IT is tenuous at best. IT professionals frequently bemoan situations in which marketing forces technology decisions onto their groups and the project plans of IT managers. Under this scenario, the ability of marketing and IT to work together is compromised, and the impact of the new software on marketing efforts is minimized.

The most effective environments are collaborative in nature, with marketing and IT working together to select the right technology to achieve marketing and related technology objectives. Collaboration of this nature builds an environment where both groups are stakeholders in the ongoing personalization process. Today's business organizations demand the ability to create communications simply and quickly, with limited involvement from IT. Nevertheless, IT departments must retain certain controls and processes to ensure production and operational integrity.

Under the right circumstances, the IT group is eager to allow other departments or even external parties to become more actively involved in the customer communication process. Traditional barriers have included:

  • The cost of deploying and maintaining technology
  • The complexity and technical nature of document creation software
  • The need for adequate controls to limit the documents to which marketing has access, the portions of the document real estate on which they can create content, and the impact additional content may have on postage costs and back-end processing
  • Defining workflow processes to ensure the appropriate parties approve content

Overcoming these barriers is essential for developing an environment of collaborative content creation. Let's take a look at how to overcome each of these barriers.

Technology deployment

Providing the necessary tools to create and manage content can be a logistical challenge as well as an expensive undertaking. An IT group must determine how to grant access to appropriate networks, databases, test regions and production environments. After initial installation, there are ongoing updates and maintenance processes for the tools to ensure all users are on identical versions of the software. This deployment can be difficult when everyone is located in one building. Now, adding the additional complexity of distributed offices and the potential of access by external clients, solution deployment can become a logistical maze.

An obvious answer to the deployment concern is the Internet. With Internet-enabled software, accessibility issues are easily overcome with a low-cost, easy-to-deploy, easy-to-secure solution. Leveraging the Internet removes one barrier to IT, opening the document creation process to other groups. However, simply providing Internet-enabled software is not enough.

Technical software

Even with Internet deployment, users will not readily use the solution if it is technical, complex, or a traditional server-heavy application. End users, particularly non-technical end users, generally do not want to learn new, complex technology. They will, however, tend to work with a specific application that meets a business need. Provide these users with a solution that allows them to create targeted messages and campaigns, and to test those campaigns in the context of a document, and you have a solution the end user will embrace ╛ unless the solution is a traditional Internet application. Traditional Internet applications are page-based and dependant on repeated server calls to access data and load a new page. These types of applications are giant steps backwards in usability when compared to PC-based software. There is exciting new technology available that combines the low-cost, easy deployment and high accessibility of the Internet with the usability of the PC: rich Internet applications. Solutions based on this technology leverage the power of the desktop to provide PC-like navigation, folder structures and drag-and-drop functionality in a Web-based solution. Providing end users easy-to-access and easy-to-use applications will lead to higher usage levels and more active participation from distributed users.

Document controls

While IT wants other parties to be involved in the document creation process, there are often concerns about giving the other parties full access to all document real estate. Line of business and external users also have concerns regarding who has access to their documents. It is imperative that any solution have security controls in place to ensure that end users have access restricted to pertinent documents and that they are only able to impact specific portion of those documents. IT does not want marketing creating needless overflow pages that impact postal costs nor do they want to grant marketing access to output controls such as inserter definitions. An ideal solution provides an environment where end users can positively impact the documents, and portions of those documents, for which they are stakeholders.

Workflow processes

As more people become involved in the document creation process, it is imperative that appropriate workflows are in place to prevent untested or unfinished items from being moved into a production environment and to adhere to organizational approval processes. The additional checks and balances of a workflow process help to control the timing and volume of new production items. Workflow with e-mail notification also ensures that all interested parties are aware of the status of any new campaigns. Defined workflow processes will help alleviate more of the concerns IT has regarding "opening" up document creation to the outside world.

Integrated marketing success

By providing a rich Internet application with security controls and workflow, the marketing content creation process becomes more accessible, streamlined, effective, and timely. IT can cost effectively shift work to external departments while maintaining important operational controls, freeing up time for other tasks and actively engaging stakeholders in the process. Marketing or external users become more involved, impact only those applications in which they are interested, and deliver new campaigns to market sooner. A truly collaborative content creation environment is realized.

The ideal solution for both marketing and IT is an infrastructure for rapidly building and deploying all types of variable document applications, that includes a browser-based front-end designed for remote marketing users to collaboratively create and manage targeted campaigns in real time. Other capabilities to look for in a collaborative solution include:

  • A role-based design environment that supports an unlimited number of remote users collaborating in the document creation process
  • User-definable approval workflow processes with e-mail notification to ensure timely turn-around
  • The ability to link marketing campaigns so that appropriate follow-up messages are automatically sent based on previous response, or lack thereof, to previous campaigns
  • The ability to track responses to campaigns
  • Automated campaign prioritization and dynamic white space management based on pre-set postal weight limitations and other requirements
  • An open architecture and the functionality to process all types of data input
  • Automated regulatory compliance

An ideal solution for a successful marketing personalization strategy is one that provides a cost-effective, usable, and accessible collaborative content creation environment. Combining all of these aspects is a challenge, but well worth the effort in today's ultra-competitive business environment.

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