The IT department isn't killing you – you are

Ian Lurie

Dear CEO/VP of operations or whatever you are:

Information technology departments don’t kill businesses. CEO’s using IT departments kill businesses.

I’m reading a great book by John Hughes: Haunting the CEO (affiliate link). He’s a CIO-for-hire, and he’s seen it all.

I’d started writing this post before I started the book, but the book really crystallized the issue for me. 75% of the time, traditional IT departments become internet marketing poison, for three reasons:

1: IT as obfuscator: The black box

Ask your head of marketing four questions:

  • What software runs your web site?
  • Where do you store your house e-mail list?
  • How does your site connect to your CRM?
  • How do you access site analytics reports?

If they can’t answer every one of these questions, without asking someone else, something is very, very wrong. It means the marketing team has zero control over one of your most important marketing assets. They can’t work with a consultant. They can’t make intelligent feature requests. They can’t diagnose potential problems with search, conversion rates, etc. They can’t even tell you how much money the web site’s made.

Your marketing team has zero control over internet marketing. Chances are, your IT team has the control.

And you, Mr/Ms. CEO, created the entire situation. You did it. Yeah, you. Don’t roll your eyes at me, young man.

2: Preservation, not progress

IT departments rarely get to serve the business by helping it progress.

Instead, most information technology departments fall into the role of preventer and preserver: Prevent stuff from breaking; preserve security; keep things consistent and easily maintained.

That’s not what they should do. Nor is it what they want to do. It’s how things end up. Every time you infect the entire network by installing a free version of Backgammon, IT gets put on the chopping block.

If your computer’s running slow, you call IT. If you can’t figure out how to print a document, you call IT. If you need to move your computer from one end of your desk to another, you call IT. And if they don’t instantly respond, you start screaming.

So they focus on damage control, instead of business growth.

muskrat yelling

If someone in marketing crashes the whole site by adding an extra “>” in the footer, what do you do? Uh-huh. You call IT. It’s all computery screeny stuff, so they must be to blame.

And, when you point the finger at them, they say “OK, give us control over the web site, then.”


IT then focuses on control and prevention: Control access. Prevent mistakes. Stop the 1 in 100 million hacker. All laudable goals, but not the top priority. Selling more stuff is the top priority.

Whose fault is it? Yep. Yours.

3: The department of marketing prevention

Once they’re given control of the web site, IT becomes a huge roadblock. Remember, they got this job because you were pissed, not because you want growth. So their job is to prevent additional yelling. Simple changes get placed in a queue behind every other technology-related request in the company. Maybe the help desk is kept separate, if you’re lucky.

Title tag edits take three weeks. Each landing page is a separate project, requiring a full Gannt chart, resource allocation, budget and hourly accounting. The TSA has better throughput. A three-toed sloth is more agile.

Security/stability become the primary web site objectives. And online marketing takes a place in line behind moron control.

IT is killing your company’s ability to iterate.

It’s not all bad

I do work with companies that have fantastic IT-marketing cooperation. A few. Here and there. Those companies mysteriously kick the crap out of all their online competitors.


Fixing this $%#!@&% mess

It’s a mess. And I’m tired of fighting with the one team within an organization that speaks the same geek I do. So fix it, one of two ways:

  1. Take internet marketing out of IT. Put the public web site on another hosting service. Let them be responsible for security. Give marketing the keys to the web site. If they can’t handle it, get a better marketing team. OR
  2. Take John Hughes’ route: Change your IT team’s priorities. Make them responsible for business goals, instead of glorified network janitors. Then team them up with marketing and turn them loose.

Either way, you’ll get a lot better results than you’re getting right now.

If you’re nodding at all of this so hard you’ve got a headache, you really want to read John’s book: [ Haunting the CEO (affiliate link). ]

Next up: Getting the legal department to let you use social media. HAHAHAHA kidding. There’s no way.

Other stuff

Ian Lurie

Ian Lurie is founder of Portent. He's been a digital marketer since the days of AOL and Compuserve (25 years, if you're counting). Ian's recorded training for, writes regularly for the Portent Blog and has been published on AllThingsD, Smashing Magazine, and TechCrunch. Ian speaks at conferences around the world, including SearchLove, MozCon, Seattle Interactive Conference and ad:Tech. He has published several books about business and marketing: One Trick Ponies Get Shot, available on Kindle, The Web Marketing All-In-One Desk Reference for Dummies, and Conversation Marketing. Ian is now an independent consultant and continues to work with the Portent team- training the agency group on all things digital. You can find him at

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  1. I’ve worked at a lot of companies like this. Thankfully, my own geeky nature is not very different from IT folks and this allows me to become good friends with them over time.
    Most IT folks have boring repetitive jobs to do so I make it a point to understand how much they like their jobs then see what I can do to make it happier.
    I make it a point to introduce them to members of the larger team and give praise where its due so they know they are ‘part of the team.’
    Then I share the big picture of how their job impacts the company’s bottom line and I involve them in data driven marketing techniques such as A/B testing or if they are creatively inclined – I give them a chance at creating landing pages with small advice (I have a background in creative design).
    It’s all about creating excitement. Once a job becomes fun and an employee knows he/she is contributing to the bottom line and feels like she’s part of the team. Things will inevitably fall in place (at least they have for me).

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