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At HoneyBaked Ham, IT and marketing follow the same menu

At The Original HoneyBaked Ham Co. of Georgia, IT and marketing didn't always pair up so well, according to Mark O’Brien, vice president of marketing, and Bill Bolton, vice president of IT. Historically, marketing acted as a rogue IT group, O'Brien confessed. Under the leadership of Bolton, the dynamic is dramatically different. "What Bill has really built and continues to reinforce is the need to make sure we're not operating in silos and that we're collaborating," O'Brien said.

In part two of this SearchCIO interview from the Kodak Alaris Global Directions 2013 conference in Washington, D.C., Bolton and O’Brien tell SearchCIO's Jenny Laurello how they developed a recipe for successful collaboration between IT  and marketing -- and why it's so important now for the Alpharetta, Ga.-based food purveyor that these two groups work together.

In your session this morning, you went over some background as to how IT implementation decisions are being made at HoneyBaked, including the project selection and project-enablement processes. Could you talk a bit more on how these frameworks were determined and how things have changed since implementing them?

Bill Bolton: Our IT committee was established over a number of years, actually. It took a while for us to get the pattern and the cadence correct. First, we had too many people in the room, and then we had too few. So we found the right balance of stakeholders to actually move the projects along and be effective and really considerate of everybody's time.

Mark, how does marketing play a role in the decision-making process?

Mark O’Brien: Well, I think first and foremost, Bill's leadership enables great collaboration. There's a very strong service orientation to the [IT] team. The actual role we played oftentimes, historically, has been as a rogue IT group, and what Bill has really built and continues to reinforce is the need to make sure we're not operating in silos and that we're collaborating.

Through his leadership, I've benefited from seeing a huge opportunity for us to collaborate to drive business and to be more efficient. So our bottom line? Being resourceful and partnering with the IT department. Our role as a group is trying to find new things to take to market or to measure our efforts and to collaborate with his group. From an IT committee standpoint, we have a seat at the table as part of the broader decision making [process] and a voice where we feel those resources would be best deployed under Bill's leadership.

What are the main bits of advice you have for IT and marketing leaders who are trying to wade through these changing waters?

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O’Brien: I would say, from my own learning, when you partner with IT as a marketing group, IT shouldn't be looked upon as just a service component within the organization. Maybe historically it had a little bit of that spin to it. Now, in this environment in which we operate, marketing and IT need to be absolutely connected to make sure that you're moving the business forward and addressing the needs of the consumer first and foremost, because we're all on the same team. There's absolutely no reason to work in silos or work independently when strong collaboration can lead to better business growth and an overall better consumer experience, which ultimately is our goal. With Bill's leadership, he's helped our organization get closer together and identify opportunities in which, with better collaboration, we can do things more efficiently, be more impactful and really affect the bottom line in a positive way.

Bolton: Mark's dead on. In the past, IT services was email and file and print services. We were off in the corner in kind of a Wizard of Oz mentality, and marketing really had a small presence in our world. If you think about how they went after reaching the consumer, it was with the [TV] networks and radio and the newspaper. Today, those have gone by the wayside. I mean, there are 900 stations, so which one are you on? And there are tons of radio stations with different demographics, so the digital world is here for them. So the IT demand and needs from the marketing group are huge. Digital, talking email -- we're talking social networking, we're talking e-commerce, virtual stores. It's the Web 2.0, coming with a huge marketing angle. I've got to be ready, we've got to partner, and he and I need to be in the room together because he's coming in large. His whole world will be digital before the end of it. It needs a technology answer.

Listen to part one to hear about Bolton and O'Brien's efforts to extract insights from consumer data, keep the company website in sync with customers' changing tastes and ensure ham remains on holiday tables.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Jenny Laurello, senior outreach and communications manager.

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Great example. Though the HoneyBaked Ham company around us has gone out of business. I shudder to think this might be a result of bad management, because having IT and marketing work together does seem (in this example and in others) to be the way of the future.