Lack of CMO-CIO alignment threatens to stagnate digital transformation

Digital transformation is well under way, and is making the business landscape more complex across every vertical. This transformation means businesses must create experiences that integrate web, cloud, mobile, social and enterprise systems to meet core customer needs at multiple touchpoints.

Major retailers are already using digital to drive scale, lower costs and shore up their market position.

Meanwhile, a host of small, nimble companies are pushing user experiences to a new level, driving differentiation and changing industries. Established brands have already disrupted markets by using digital to capture transactions outside their core offerings. These companies understand that whoever owns the customer experience owns the customer relationship.

>See also: The digital marketing cloud war: who will win over the CMO?

This transformation has serious implications for the bottom line. According to management consulting firm McKinsey & Company, more than three-quarters of executives say they want to use digital programmes to build competitive advantage in an existing business or to create new business and tap new profit pools.

To deliver a compelling customer experience across any channel, organisations can’t just swap out a few initiatives or make a handful of tweaks. They have to completely reevaluate their strategic approach and revamp the way they think, work and act.

CIO versus CMO

But how do businesses go about changing from the inside out? The whole concept of transforming digital marketing asks them to rock the boat, and that’s never simple. Many companies are stumbling over the demand for rapid development of new skills and investments that feel very different from business as usual.

As marketing becomes more automated and relies more on data and analytics, a gray zone has sprung up between the CMO and CIO organisations. For many businesses, this can lead to internal friction grappling with who should do what.

Traditionally, the CIO has overseen technology spending and technical innovations, while companies have relied on the CMO for creative insight and never expected that role to make technology decisions. But increasingly, the CMO is expected to drive digital from both a creative and a technology perspective.

While some may see this overlap as a conflict, the shifting responsibilities of the CMO and CIO organisations in fact present the opportunity for a natural and very powerful partnership.

By combining the CMO’s customer data and creative vision with the CIO’s expertise in development and IT architecture, organisations now have two champions cross-pollinating insights to solve for the complexities surrounding marketing automation, big data analytics, and cloud, mobile and social technologies.

In fact, this joining of forces has already begun. According to staffing agency the Creative Group, 55% of advertising and marketing executives say they are collaborating more closely with the technology leaders of their companies as compared with three years ago. The same study reports that 33% of CIOs say they started collaborating more closely with their marketing counterparts during that same time frame.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who’s in charge as much as it does how well the CMO and CIO agree on the direction and scope of digital initiatives. When marketing and IT work together, it’s easier to adapt the business to change, meet customer needs in new ways and still maintain reasonable standards for nonfunctional requirements such as costs, security, simplicity and reliability.

Conflict or cooperation?

It sounds good in theory to say that the CMO and CIO should work together – but what does that really look like? How can the two organisations foster that balance in practical terms?

For starters, the organisations have to meet each other halfway. The CMO should take a wider view of strategy, process and business-model issues that affect the organisation as a whole. While some CMOs might also wear the hat of a digital business strategist, that’s not the only option. A company can hire a chief technology officer or even a chief digital officer to fill that role.

>See also: CIOs and CMOs still struggle to deliver integrated digital marketing despite narrowing gap

On the other side of the fence, the CIO should develop the skills, relationships and credibility to participate in conversations about overall business strategy, instead of sticking simply to technical and support matters. To stay relevant and best serve the company’s digital mission, CIOs should shift their focus from infrastructure to innovation and solutions.

When asked to name the biggest barrier to collaboration between marketing and IT, the same study by the Creative Group found that the top response from both advertising and marketing executives and CIOs was ‘communication’.

It’s not just that the two need to meet halfway in terms of different responsibilities, but that they need to change how – and how much – they talk to each other. That could mean joint check-ins at the execution level, more frequent meetings between the CIO and CMO, and coming together on operational initiatives.

In reality, multiple individuals and organisations across a company will play key roles in its transformation to digital marketing. With so many moving pieces, it’s essential to align these participants – especially the CMO and the CIO – to keep the transformation progressing smoothly.


Sourced from Anshuman Singh, head, digital business and consulting group, Mindtree 

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Ben Rossi

Ben was Vitesse Media's editorial director, leading content creation and editorial strategy across all Vitesse products, including its market-leading B2B and consumer magazines, websites, research and...

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