Is CIO-CMO Still Corporate Boardroom’s Odd Couple?

by Sohini Bagchi    Nov 25, 2014


In a digitally dominated universe, the (Chief Marketing Officer) CMO and (Chief Information Officer) CIO have been talking the collaboration game for some time now. But a new Forrester Research thinks that the relationship between the two roles still has a long way to go and it’s time CMOs and CIOs stop talking and start acting together.

While a decade ago, it didn’t really matter whether the two C-executives become the best buddies in the corporate boardroom. However, in recent years, as marketing budgets shifted to relatively newer channels such as social media and mobile advertising, with digital becoming the mantra, marketing executives have been increasingly pushed to understand technology and likewise technology executives are expected to understand marketing… and hence the need to collaborate.

The gap remains…

Forrester’s research based on polling 308 marketing and tech leaders, however, reveals a rather gloomy picture. While on one hand, 44 percent of marketers believe the CIO hires staff with marketing experience, an improvement compared with the 19 percent figure from last year’s survey, on the other, less than half of the (47 percent) believe that the CMO and CIO at their company work together to develop a tech strategy prior to allocating a budget. This, according to Forrester is a gap indicating all’s not well boardroom.

CMOs and CIOs have made little progress in turning large amounts of data into actionable customer insights, says the survey. “What was surprising was that there wasn’t as much progress as we were expecting. The one bright spot was an improvement in understanding each other’s priorities. But turning that alignment into action still needs quite a bit of work,” said Sheryl Pattek, VP, Principal Analyst serving CMO professionals at Forrester in her blog, adding that “They’re still not partnering to develop that strategy before allocating budget.”

Another recent Accenture survey also shows that nearly 50 percent of CIOs say that marketing makes promises without agreement from IT, and 40 percent of CMOs say that IT deliverables fall short of their expectations. These and several other reports show the two C-suite entities are often in loggerheads with one another. While most CMOs look at IT as a support function and complain that CIOs are not providing them the desired flexibility and turnaround speed, CIOs, often get frustrated with marketing’s unreasonable demands, says Accenture.

The collaboration game

“The question whether CIO and CMO should collaborate should not seem to be relevant today, as the digital revolution is already underway. Even say a few years backs, there was a divide on digital and social media initiatives, as they were not fully prepared for it. But with the millennials making inroads into the job markets, the divide is narrowing,” Sudhir Reddy, industry veteran, who’s currently working as CIO at Aricent says adding that today marketing and IT “should” work together to achieve the set organizational goals.

A McKinsey article also states that CIO-CMO relationship has no other way out but function smoothly in a world, where the volume of data is growing at least 40 percent a year, with ever-increasing variety and velocity. In order to work smoothly in the digital world, the authors of the article suggest both the parties to set well-defined goals, together. “When you’re looking for a needle in a haystack of big data, you really need to know what a needle looks like.” With a specific and shared target in mind, the marketing and IT teams will be forced to work together. Marketing and IT must share accountability to get the job done right,” it says.

While the CMO must become metrics driven and transparent, the CIO must also shift mindset, as Jim Zimmermann, Product Marketing Director, Skillsoft  believes while forging a winning relationship between marketing and IT isn’t easy, it can be done by being clear on decision governance, building the right teams, and ensuring transparency.

Rise of Chief Marketing Technologist?

With digitization becomes a transformational phenomenon, experts believe that now designations such as CIO, CMO or CDO do not really matter when it comes to adoption of marketing technology? As another Forrester study believes that organizations just need digital champions.

This means that companies now need an existing digitally savvy senior executive to coordinate digital resources across the company, ending this everlasting conflict between the CMO-CIO role.

Increasingly, companies are seeking executives, who don’t just understand technology, but are well-versed in marketing strategies too. Hence the need for new designation: Chief Marketing Technologist (CMT), who are expected to be tech-savvy, strategists and good in marketing.

Read on: Now, Companies Need Chief Marketing Technologists

 “You are more likely to see a Chief Marketing Technologist (CMT) come into play in the corporations, who has all-round marketing and marketing technology experience,” David Parker, Global Content Technology Lead at Kimberly-Clark, writes on LinkedIn.

Whether it’s about a CMT or companies having CMOs and CIOs to work together, what matters is the C-suite digital marketing leaders must create a shared business-technology agenda “that creates a to-do list for the technologies, systems, and processes needed to win, serve, and retain customers,” says Forrester. That list includes addressing the people, processes, technology, and data imperatives—clarifying people’s roles and responsibilities; jointly owning a customer-centric enterprise; starting with mobile moments to lead digital transformation; and acquire, maintain and analyze data to act on business opportunities.