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Zipcar puts a face on hybrid IT

IT+Product +Marketing. That’s the formula behind car-sharing pioneer Zipcar’s mission to deliver personalized service to its more than 800,000 members, said  Brian Harrington, chief marketing officer (CMO).

I recently spoke to Harrington about how data plays a crucial role in making that happen. Rather than every IT-related request falling on the shoulders of the IT department, Harrington has embraced a concept we’ve been pushing on SearchCIO for awhile — hybrid IT.

“The primary driver of this business is around product experience,” Harrington said. “And so you have to think about our success as being driven by IT plus product plus marketing.”

Of course, it’s one thing to slap a label on collaboration between IT and the business, between the CIO and CMO. It’s another to put it into practice. For Harrington, it means working closely with his IT counterpart, the vice president of engineering. With big projects or big purchases, the two departments come together to identify the business use cases and make joint decisions; but not everything is a big project and not everything requires engineering’s attention, Harrington said.

“We use a lot of tools within marketing that engineering doesn’t even touch,” he said. “And, honestly, they don’t want to touch them.” The tools tend to be point solutions that solve a single pain point. Social media monitoring is one example, but another is a tool that enables Zipcar’s marketing department to perform A/B testing on how to personalize landing pages.

Rather than bother engineering with these smaller, simpler requests, Harrington turns to the relatively inexpensive and easy-to-use Software as a Service (SaaS) tools. And he does so with the company’s blessing.

“There’s recognition within the company that some of these tools are fantastic and are great solutions for some of the specific needs of marketing,” he said. “And so, to that extent in these situations, engineering is fully supportive of our use and adoption of these things.”

Figuring out a way to prioritize IT-related tasks can help take some of the pressure off IT departments that need to focus on the demand for agility, Harrington said. “That solution set means there are some things engineering does really well and some things where the needs are better served by SaaS-based tools,” he said. “It’s a happy hybrid between the two that makes it really work.”

IT+Product+Marketing = Win/Win?

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