Engineers are from Mars, Marketers are from Venus

If you're familiar with the relationship book 'Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus' and work with technology, you may have noticed the fundamental differences in the way people think about software.In companies of all sizes, the challenges of working to keep existing infrastructure running and new technologies effectively integrated and secure takes up the lions share of IT engineering planning and execution time.

If you're familiar with the relationship book 'Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus' and work with technology, you may have noticed the fundamental differences in the way people think about software.

In companies of all sizes, the challenges of working to keep existing infrastructure running and new technologies effectively integrated and secure takes up the lions share of IT engineering planning and execution time.

As John Hagel and John Seeley Brown discuss in their book 'The Only Sustainable Edge' executives often feel uncomfortable talking about technology, and marketers frequently complain about the tech infrastructure they are expected to work within.

The disconnects between the rapidly changing business environment of marketing (the lifeblood of a company) and in comparison the relatively static and fixed IT infrastructure (the process and communication foundations) can be a source of great friction.

'The Only Sustainable Edge' discusses 'productive friction' - the dynamism created by encouraging closer collaboration between disparate groups within a company and its partners. While meetings and agreements can foster a dynamic set of intentions, the more prosaic hard work of engineering execution, often on top of previous generations of IT strata, becomes frequently the rocks on which great ideas and relationships are dashed.

Like dragging an anchor, in house engineering staff knowledge of frailties within existing IT foundations colors their perception of the viability of proposed strategic plans and slows things down on a practical level. This, coupled with existing responsibilities and legacy burdens, results in the substantial timetabling delays in project execution that are the friction point with line of business, who tactically need stuff yesterday.

There's a deeper psychological issue endemic in all this though, suggested by this post's title: there often appears to be a fundamental psychological divide between the engineering mindset and that of the marketer.

While CIO's are intended to be more strategic and CTO's more tactically focused, these roles seem increasingly blurred, perhaps because executing agreed goals is a safer place to be than planning IT strategy. The rapid rise of informal shadow IT in line of business units - software as a service purchased on departmental credit cards and fulfilling an immediate need - is the classic fragmentation point in this era.

IT are left to play whack a mole with illegal infrastructure, which may leak IP, based on their remit to guarantee security. Marketers and line of business are forced to covertly use online solutions for their continuing urgent needs with a resulting lack of transparency.

In many cases executive management tacitly condone 'shadow IT' usage since they see it drives results. The 'Mars' thinking by engineers appears to be driven by pragmatic thought around how to work with an existing code base and to some extent fear of the unknown: striking out to write and test new functionality is fraught with downside risk. Until the goalposts are firmly anchored, engineers with justification are wary of embarking on the hard task of providing new functionality.

The people often accused of moving the goalposts - the marketing 'Venus' folks, are always in a rush to get the infrastructure they need to underpin their shifting needs.

In many cases the solution is to use software as a service as a prototyping model: if a solution becomes fundamental to line of business infrastructure it should be replicated as more robust, scalable and secure within the firewall.

In the way of this thinking are the security concerns and siloed 'not invented or allowed here' thinking, but the reality is that this is the frontline of global competitive advantage. Enterprises who do not use all the tools at their disposal, sometimes formally taking risks with IP protection with full knowledge and approval by senior management, risk becoming secure fortresses which are increasingly uncompetitive.

swan image by mozzercork