Friday, 25 July 2014

CIOs should top CMOs on digital strategy

One feature of the conversation about CIOs in recent months has been about where they stand in regard to chief marketing officers (CMOs). It’s an acknowledgement that one of prime functions of an organisation’s information strategy is to support its marketing, and there have been suggestions that the CIO should be regarded primarily as part of the CMO’s team.
Accenture has thrown its voice into the debate with the publication of a report, Cutting across the CMO-CIO divide, which it says reflects a sea change as more CIOs put marketing at the top of their agendas. It’s core message is that, while they understand the need to collaborate, they don’t get on over a number of issues.
For example, a lot of CMOs think that IT teams don’t get the need for urgency in integrating new data sources into campaigns as required, and that technology development is too slow for digital marketing. CIOs complain about shifting goalposts and marketing’s lack of vision in anticipating new digital channels.
All this is no big surprise. Conflicting agendas are part of daily life in the boardroom, and it becomes more fraught when technology is involved as it advances so quickly and the two sides have a different focus. It can also be complicated by issues around data regulation; marketing teams see the opportunities in acquiring and squeezing customer data, while CIOs are aware of the legal limitations and know any transgressions will place them in the firing line.
It shouldn’t be impossible to overcome these tensions; after all, the teams are led by highly paid people who are all meant to have an understanding of the whole business. But it might need a stronger consensus over who is in overall charge of digital issues: who has the final say and is ultimately responsible for any failures.
The CIO is the obvious choice, as information is the foundation of a digital strategy and the focus of his or her responsibility. They spend more of their time and think more deeply about the digital aspects of the business, and should be the prime source of expertise.
But in plenty of organisations that is going to stir up fresh tensions. You cannot stop CMOs and their teams from keeping a sharp eye on the digital opportunities in marketing and making a noise over wanting to grab them, even if they are unproved or could bring unwelcome consequences.
A merger between the two departments – an idea that is occasionally floated – could only come to grief. You’re looking at two groups of people with different mindsets: marketers who want to excite the customer, and information specialists with a more methodical outlook on making sure it all flows as it should. It’s right that, as Accenture suggests, there should be an organisational digital vision to underpin collaboration, but they will remain separate entities.
Solutions won’t come easily and this tension is likely to rumble on for some time. But if CIOs don’t obtain the ultimate authority over digital strategies it will seriously undermine what their role is all about.
Mark Say is a UK based writer who covers the role of information management and technology in business. See

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