Reconnecting the CIO and the CMO

A disconnect exists between IT and other offices within the enterprise. Here are some strategies for CIOs to bridge the gap and strengthen IT's position within organizations.

By Joe Stanganelli | Posted Oct 16, 2013
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This past summer, Accenture released a report entitled "The CMO-CIO Disconnect." Based on a global study of CMOs and CIOs in businesses with at least $500 million in annual revenues, the paper highlights a collection of perennial turf wars between the two corner offices. Accenture's survey results paint a picture of distrustful, poorly structured environments and makes recommendations thereby. Though focused on the relationship between CMOs and CIOs in particular, many observations apply to any office with which IT must work—which means, all of them.

The Accenture report indicates that CMOs wish to be free from what they may consider oppressive IT yokes. Whereas more than three quarters of CIOs feel a need for CIO-CMO alignment, only 56 percent of CMOs agree. Just under half of CIOs surveyed indicated that their marketing departments adopted technologies without considering IT standards, and 45 percent of CMOs want freedom for their departments to access and use data without IT interposition. This is problematic for IT, of course, since if the technologies CMOs allow end up causing problems, it's up to IT to pick up the pieces, even when IT wouldn't have authorized the technologies' use in the first place.

Of course, many would argue that marketing and other departments go around IT for their technology needs because IT doesn't always fulfill the requirements of its traditional role as a service provider. Some CMOs have determined that they can get better, cheaper data control by going outside of the organization. 35 percent of CMOs reported that they preferred outsourced SaaS solutions to relying upon their own IT departments.

Worse, in many instances these problems between marketing and IT are barely disputed. More than 30 percent of CMOs "feel that IT keeps marketing out of the loop…and doesn’t make time and technical resources available." A roughly equal number of CIOs admit this. In partial defense of CIOs, however, 46 percent of them allege that their marketing departments fail to "provide an adequate level of business requirements."

And yet, barely 42 percent of CIOs and CMOs feel that they need to collaborate with each other more. 

Accenture blames both sides for collaboration and customer journey-mapping failures. "Instead, the customer journey is force-fit into artificial sections that contract the seamless, non-stop journey that customers naturally take," reads the report. "Because [CIOs and CMOs] are not marching to a common purpose, collaboration cannot occur."

Accenture offers numerous recommendations to the CIO-CMO collaboration problem, but some of them come off as a bit too pat – and slightly naïve.

First, the report recommends that the CMO – in addition to CMO duties – take on the role of CXO (Chief Experience Officer), uniting the rest of the C-suite to drive business outcomes. By bypassing IT and running to SaaS solutions (whether better or worse for the business in the long run), CMOs are already unilaterally taking upon themselves the burden of managing user experience. C-suite unification is great, but when neither side communicates well and both blame the other, role-playing can only go so far. Clearly this isn't the sticking point.

Accenture goes on to urge that the CMO and the CIO should agree on business priorities. This idea seems not only unnecessary, but downright dumb. Other than "helping the customer" and "making money," generally speaking, no department need necessarily agree on business priorities. That is why, truly, organizations have different departments.

As director and playwright David Mamet put it, "The boat has to look like a boat; the sail doesn't have to look like a boat." The sail need not do the job of the entire boat; it need only do the job of a sail, enabling the rest of the boat, a sum of its individual components doing their own individual jobs, to properly function as a boat. Marketing's priority is marketing. IT's priority is IT. Empowerment is great, but if you try to turn a CIO into a marketer and a CMO into an IT person, no one will have any priorities whatsoever, because no one will have a clearly defined role.

That does not mean that the CMO and the CIO cannot come to learn, understand, and respect each other's priorities. The real issue here is ensuring that the CMO and the CIO communicate effectively with each other regarding their respective priorities, and how each C-Suiter's priorities can ultimately help serve those of the other party. Opening up these dialogues may help stimulate productive changes that improve the business as a whole.

Accenture's report further dictates that the CMO "must accept IT as a strategic partner with marketing…and…not just view IT as a delivery platform." The problem with this is multifold. First, IT fundamentally is – if nothing else – a delivery platform. If it fails at that, then it fails at its most basic job. Second, IT, having many other departments to service, cannot effectively be a "strategic partner with marketing" more than it can be a "strategic partner" with any other department. Certainly, CMOs and their charges must do what they can to help IT help them, but there is a burden here upon the IT department as well – i.e., to get marketing to buy what it is selling.

More to the point, IT often has a tendency to stick in its own IT bubble, losing sight of actual business cases. According to Sergey Krymgold, associate director of IT at Biogen Idec, IT needs to reverse this tendency to reinforce collaboration throughout the entire organization (marketing included). In our CMO example, IT must take an active listening approach to the marketing department, then demonstrate how the IT solutions available apply to marketing's actual use cases.

Krymgold and other panelists at the "IT & Informatics in Support of Collaboration and Externalization" session at this year's Bio-IT World conference urged that the CIO must act as an evangelist for IT solutions, with IT acting as its own sales, marketing, and UX department. Panelists also enthusiastically suggested content marketing, gamification, taking user suggestions, getting key stakeholders on board to champion IT solutions through word-of-mouth, and other positive reinforcement strategies.

These ideas lead into another Accenture recommendation: that both marketing and IT should cross-train more in each others' skill sets. Just as IT must learn how to market itself (as well as come to understand its customer – the marketing department), marketing would do well to become more, in the words of the report, "savvy about digital technology architecture." Certainly, it is one thing to be able to use an interface, but another thing entirely to understand it.

Accenture's final suggestion – that marketing and IT trust each other more – rather goes without saying. Indeed, if a well-meaning CMO and CIO pair heed the tips above – which ultimately boil down to open, effective, unrelenting communication – that trust will naturally come.

After all, when you're trying to repair a disconnect, the best thing to do is reconnect.

How well does IT collaborate with other departments in your organization? Let us know in the comments.

Joe Stanganelli is a writer, attorney, and communications consultant. He is also principal and founding attorney of Beacon Hill Law in Boston. Follow him on Twitter at @JoeStanganelli.

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