In my previous post about the relationship between marketing and technology functions in today’s progressive organisations, I explored how the evolution of the Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) role is leading it to reach into spaces previously the primary domain of the Chief Information Officer (CIO). This is being driven in large part by the rise of technology as a critical strategic enabler that helps define what’s possible for marketers to achieve; presenting opportunities to create highly innovative and disruptive solutions as well as enabling marketers to accomplish strategic tasks.
As a result, CMOs are having to rapidly acquire the knowledge and skills needed to capitalise on these new technological capabilities. Pete Stein, CEO of Razorfish, succinctly summarised the options available to achieve this: “The companies that are thriving now are the ones where marketers are embracing technology. They’re either learning technology themselves, or bringing in new talent, or becoming best friends with the CIO.”
In this post I’ll be looking at the latter of these suggestions, covering four situations when communication between the CMO and CIO is particularly vital for ensuring these two chief officers, and the organisation they serve, benefit from each other’s unique understanding of the industry landscape.
1. When purchasing new software
Technology purchases have typically been focused around streamlining processes and making cost savings, so have naturally been owned by the IT department and the CIO in particular. However this dynamic is changing, with technology increasingly adopted to help sales, marketing and customer service functions effectively reach out to and engage with customers. This shift is also supported by the emergence of a wide variety of SaaS (Software as a Service) solutions and APIs that enable the CMO to create a custom suite of tools tailored to their specific requirements and goals.
Geared to facilitate organisational growth rather than efficiencies, these applications have been dubbed by some industry commentators as ‘business’ technology, as a counterpoint to ‘information’ technology, and a Gartner survey into the attitudes of CEOs has revealed that these kind of ‘front-office’ capabilities will dominate technology-enabled investments over the next five years.
These trends have obviously increased the importance of involving the CMO in the selection of new technology solutions intended to support their strategic objectives. Does this mean, though, that the CIO’s part in the process can be dispensed with entirely? Of course not. The knowledge contained with the IT department remains critical to ensuring project success, and the CIO will be required to offer guidance on how well new systems will integrate with the existing technology stack, provide information on potential security risks, and define long-term maintenance and support plans among other things. Involving the CIO from the earliest stages could even prevent superfluous procurement processes, as they can advise on whether projects can be undertaken in-house, or if specialist knowledge and skills are required. It’s only when the CMO is aware of all these technical considerations and the CIO understands the strategic objectives of the project, though, that the most suitable solution and vendor can be chosen.
2. When implementing new software and processes
Once the appropriate technology is in place it’s vital that communication continues throughout the implementation process, with the CMO keeping the direction of development aligned with marketing and business goals while the CIO remains responsible for safeguarding performance by enforcing quality standards. The CIO can also help improve margins by identifying opportunities for increased efficiency and cost-effectiveness, which still remain crucial qualities even as IT’s focus shifts towards the front-line. Additionally, by talking to each other the CMO and CIO can uncover means of increasing returns for the organisation beyond the immediate implementation, by assessing where common marketing processes can be streamlined with the help of technology, or even automated entirely.
The very fact of having the CIO and CMO collaborate can even in itself support the optimisation of processes, by helping break down the operational silos that currently exist in many organisations. Removing these barriers to understanding other teams’ activity not only avoids the risk of duplicating effort and investing in unnecessary projects, but encourages information and data to be shared in order to build a single view of the business and the customer; enabling everybody to work towards meeting the overarching goals of the organisation as productively as possible.
3. When collecting and analysing data
The subject of data is arguably one deserving of its own section, especially since the now ubiquitous concept of ‘big’ data has introduced numerous new considerations and extended its reach to touch practically all areas of the organisation. With an obvious impact on the IT function, data is a particularly hot topic for the CIO, with IBM’s most recent CIO survey revealing that 84% of respondents plan to invest in ‘insight and intelligence’ technologies in the coming years.
It’s also attracting increasing attention from the CMO, as the effective analysis and application of data has become integral to the successful execution of marketing strategies. The reason for this isn’t difficult to discern: the glut of data provides a wealth of opportunities to build a better picture of individual users, helping facilitate the delivery of highly personalised and contextualised experiences that drive greater engagement, satisfaction and conversions. Consequently one of the key priorities for any CMO looking to keep up with the rate of change is, as I mentioned in my last post, to bring data skills on board, with 60% intending to have formal recruiting processes in place by the end of the year.
However, in addition to drafting in external skills in the form of dedicated marketing data scientists, the CMO shouldn’t overlook the value of the expertise currently residing within their organisation in the form of the CIO and the IT department. As the traditional keeper of this kind of information, the CIO can help ensure that it’s available in a clear and easily-understandable format, joining up all available sources to illustrate the unified customer journey vital for marketing responsiveness and relevance, and share best practice knowledge to maintain the quality, validity and suitability of all findings. The CIO should also look to learn what information is most important to support marketing tactics and objectives so that they can tailor the tools and processes needed to support these; maximising the impact on bottom-line business goals.
4. When defining high-level strategy
As the potential for CIO/CMO collaborations to make organisations more productive and competitive becomes increasingly apparent, there is also a growing interest in both areas from the CEO role. As well as illustrating the desire to invest in sales, marketing and customer service technologies noted above, Gartner research found that CEOs are taking a higher personal interest in applying technology more aggressively in their firms and that, when combined, digital and tech issues represent the third most significant area shaping today’s business strategies. Taken together, these trends can be seen to be helping drive the ‘digital transformation’ occurring in many organisations, the effects of which are felt far beyond the technology space and into the fundamentals of business strategies.
With the CEO paying close attention to how technology can be applied to the marketing function, the opportunity exists for the CIO and CMO to take on greater strategic responsibility, by working together to inform the direction of new investments and implement ideas that will strengthen business performance. Combining their knowledge of predicted industry trends as well as competitor activity, they will also play a vital role in future-proofing the overall business strategy to ensure long-term, sustainable gains, meaning that their influence isn’t likely to diminish for the foreseeable future.
Whether you’re a CIO or CMO, part of the marketing or IT teams, or are just interested in better ways of working, I hope this post has encouraged you to embrace the chance for communication and collaboration, especially at critical moments likely to impact the entire organisation. Remember, too, that the relationship between marketing and technology is complex and circular, making it important to maintain regular and frequent communication to ensure you’re able to take advantage of new opportunities as and when they arise.
Now, it’s over to you. What information do you share across your organisation? What tools and processes do you have in place to enable these exchanges? Have you seen any benefits? We’d love to hear your thoughts.