The Blurry Relationship Between CMOs and CIOs

The Blurry Relationship Between CMOs and CIOs

As more businesses evolve operations to be digital-first, marketing and IT departments often approach the transition from different, yet relevant, points of view that can cause tension.

Lalit Dhingra is president of NIIT Technologies’ US operations.

Transforming any part of a business can put a strain on the entire organization regardless of how well it is planned. The recent push for digital transformation is no different.

As more businesses evolve operations to be digital-first, marketing and IT departments often approach the transition from different, yet relevant, points of view that can cause tension. This is due in part because each department does not understand the intention of the other: chief marketing officers (CMOs) can perceive that IT teams don’t recognize the urgent need for integrating new data sources, though the CMO may not understand how long such a project actually takes. Likewise, chief information officers (CIOs) are forced to work within shrinking budgets which can make implementing new systems more difficult.

While the divide between CMOs and CIOs is narrowing, companies are still struggling to move beyond the IT crossroads to take full advantage of digital opportunities. This rift will continue to shrink as more firms truly commit to transforming businesses in meaningful ways enabled by technology. Simply making a website mobile friendly, and migrating file sharing and instant messaging to the cloud doesn't truly constitute digital transformation. Companies must avoid a "tick the box" mentality and take a more in-depth approach to digital transformation.

Planning for Transformation

When any company starts to transform the business model, it is natural to start developing a list of efforts or changes that must be done and then start to assign the task. However, this can lead to diffusion of responsibility and lack of understanding of the end goal about why the company must be digital.

This can be avoided by empowering the CIO, who is, in most cases, a chief digital transformation leader, to be at the executive table. Since engineering is a huge part of the transformation, it makes sense for the CIO to play a key role in it. However, every department – whether it is marketing, sales, IT or even the CEO's office, has to collaborate in creating a well-thought-out plan. For quick adoption, companies need a digital framework that can clearly map their offerings to the customer's expectations. The framework should target all business areas and identify suitable digital technologies for swift execution. The plan must also map out concrete measures of success.

Aside from a framework, executive guidelines and direction from the C-suite will help drive a successful relationship between the CIO and CMO during this transition. Aside from this, however, there is also a need for increased collaboration between the CMO and CIO. Rather than operate in a siloed, individual manner, each should look to the other to push his/her boundaries and drive new opportunities while planning the change to digital. The CMO must expand his/her mindset to think of ways to create a marketing strategy that can be directly impactful for a business and the manner in which digital can add to this. The CIO, meanwhile, must look at the importance of digital platforms and digital transformation holistically, thinking of it as a means to improve the overall business process and the various strategies that play into this.

Ensuring Role Responsibilities

As companies expand the requirements for both the CMO and CIO role, some may worry that the responsibilities for each are shifting in a confusing direction. But this is not the case – companies must look to their employees to develop a harmonious relationship between both positions, after which the opportunities for a successful relationship are boundless. Both CIOs and CMOs can offer innovative thinking, provided that they operate together synergistically, rather than being territorial and/or controlling of the domain that each oversees.

Both CIOs and CMOs can elevate their roles and offer innovative thinking within the IT and marketing department. If the relationship is stifled, however, by either being overprotective of the domain that he/she oversees, then the impact may be drastically limited.

Indeed, if done correctly, CMOs and CIOs can incorporate strategic insights from the others’ respective department. In the case of the CMO, this means not just an expansion within digital marketing, but an ongoing development of tech-based marketing. CIOs, meanwhile can focus on a company’s IT systems and technological databases, while also developing a more creative role in which they can consult with CMOs and others in the company on best practices to leverage technology. Through this approach, both can work toward more of a “middle ground” between each role, rather than operating in a more restricted, conventional role.

The Future for CMOs and CIOs

Gone are the days when CMOs could focus exclusively on advertising and creative, and regard digital as a channel, not as an enabler of business transformation. As digital disruption is turning business models on its head, CMOs must become digital disrupters for their industries. A digital business plan immediately aligns a firm's vision with digital initiatives to streamline core operations and create new revenue opportunities. Ultimately, a CEO's clear vision of how digital technologies can help achieve competitive advantage is key to the success of digital investments.

Industry Perspectives is a content channel at Data Center Knowledge highlighting thought leadership in the data center arena. See our guidelines and submission process for information on participating. View previously published Industry Perspectives in our Knowledge Library.

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