Bridging the IT/Marketing divide in customer experience design

When starting a customer experience design project, Marketing, Strategy and IT professionals spend a ton of time working to get into the heads of customers — assessing and selecting tools for journey mapping, data analysis and user persona development. This work is hard, but intensely rewarding, and can lead you to design for the customer experience in ways you never would, had you only been looking inward to your own organization.

The pull of that internal ecosystem is strong as you begin thinking about innovation, change and opportunistic design. In The Mobile Mind Shift, Forrester researchers Schadler, Bernhoff and Ask put it simply: “The mobile mind shift demands innovation. The complexity of your current business applications and legacy technology architectures won’t support that innovation.”

Gulp. For many of us leading customer experience design work, this idea hits like a ton of bricks. So often, the IT/Marketing relationship is difficult at best, and understandably so.

The role of traditional IT departments is to ensure that the enterprise technology solutions are stable, efficient and optimized. But designing for the optimal customer experience (typically falling to Marketing) often means breaking one or more of those enterprise solutions. It’s hard to get IT partners to the table with the promise that you’re going to break their stuff.

How do you bridge this divide?

Get a marriage counselor, if you need it. Spend the time and effort to get really close to your IT partners and talk through the limits of the legacy systems that you are going to have to build the experience on top of (or around). Have some empathy about the enormity of their job, and ask them to help you identify the hard/fast limitations, versus the opportunities where you can build and help to shape the future of these systems. At Children’s Minnesota, the intractable systems, rightfully so, are those that deal with secure patient data. Thoroughly mapping these systems and policies has allowed us to design around and within them, rather than seeing them as a barrier to innovation.

Create a new space. The truth is, neither IT or Marketing (nor Sales, HR, Product development, etc.) alone are positioned well to successfully drive customer experience design initiatives. Cross-functional teams with a clear directive and deliverables will be far more successful than work that is siloed. Pull digital innovation planning out of marketing and IT, and engage sales, products, human resources and customer support teams to create the journey map and determine the priorities for design and development.

Don’t forget about the money. Just as legacy systems, team structure and IT infrastructure can become barriers to innovation, so can the money trail. Successful projects are those that are able to establish alternative funding strategies to create a sandbox for innovation and be able to drive work at the speed of the customer. When project funding is tied to fiscal year planning, good ideas can die on the vine waiting for the next capital or operational funding cycle. At large organizations with many demands on resources, it’s tempting to just ask for the one thing (capital investment in a mobile platform, for example), but including ongoing operational funding for the break/fix and product roadmap creates transparency and demonstrates the commitment to the new platform as a long-term investment for the organization, one worth maintaining and growing.

Let’s be honest — at times it feels like the easiest thing would be to scrap all the legacy stuff that makes it challenging for organizations to move at the speed needed to deliver on customer needs. And for a few organizations, either those small enough or those with significant resources to invest, it’s possible.

For many, huge amounts of energy and opportunity is wasted waiting for legacy systems to catch up or be in just the right place before innovation can get started. Don’t wait: your customer isn’t likely to do so either.

Meet Jen

Jen is the Director of Digital Marketing at Children’s Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota, and blogs at on issues related to women and leadership, closing the gender gap and work/life integration. Follow her on Twitter at @jgswanson.

Hear Jen speak at MobCon 2015.

Photo courtesy of anfisa focusova.