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CMO-CIO: Paths Converge, Not Compete

Historically, the chief marketing officer and chief information officer have viewed their missions differently, even while working toward the same company goals. Each had separate priorities that inevitably led to distinct approaches.

Their two functions often operated in silos, on different time lines and with different priorities. Typically, their conflicts concerned balancing the short runway of time for the CMO to create change, while the CIO tried to reduce technology debt. This balancing act poses structural and political problems for organizations.

However, the changing business landscape has brought these executives together and shows that the CMO and CIO may need each other more than they realize.

Evolving CMO-CIO roles

Transformation and operations spending power has been firmly in the hands of the CIO or CTO for the past decade. Organizations concentrated on cutting recurring costs while modernizing legacy systems. As audits and digital transformation initiatives matured, the focus began to shift toward balancing delivery of their own outcomes with creating an improved consumer experience. Simultaneously, the interests of the CMO elevated while allowing the CIO to take on a more strategic role aligned with the business plan.

In the 2019 State of the CIO report, the International Data Group found that 88% of CIOs said they are more involved in leading digital transformation initiatives compared to their business counterparts. They are “focusing more and more on business strategist tasks, helping to identify new revenue opportunities and operational innovations,” according to the report.

Meanwhile, the CMO’s blueprint has evolved in ways that don’t conflict with the CIO. The first digital CMOs led the charge for digitization and digital marketing. Now, the new wave is interested in transforming experiences, ones that are affected by each interaction with products, advertising and services. This means creating a differentiated and authentic experience for customers, employees, partners and suppliers.

Experience and design

Experience is the new brand, while design is the new creative. Companies where the CIO and CMO cooperate effectively can better embrace these trends and leapfrog traditional competitors.

Artificial intelligence-driven personalization makes marketing to an audience of one possible. Internet of things devices deliver real-time data on foot traffic and retail experience with greater accuracy than surveys. And digital enterprise resource planning systems can manage supply chains, personnel and maintenance by using mobile apps.

All these new initiatives require a strong, unified sense of mission and collaboration among leaders. To facilitate this, organizations should embrace:

  • Agile methodology — Teams need not just Agile software development, but also agile design and mindsets. There’s a long road ahead, so why not break up projects into smaller stages? This gives teams the freedom to take a detour if conditions change.
  • Creative democracy — Good ideas can come from anywhere, so teams need to be cross-functional and work environments need to be collaborative. At Infosys’s Design & Innovation Studios, user experience designers sit next to enterprise architects and data and analysis teams, while strategists work alongside engineers. Their differentiated approaches complement each other.
  • Common goals — Make sure everyone has the same goals, understands the underlying reasons and realizes what value is offered to the client. Companies don’t want to buy a tech stack; they want a business outcome, whether it’s growth, efficiency or experience.

Data and technology will continue to converge with design and experience as companies reinvent themselves. A focus on experience, such as storytelling and personalization, can create the differentiation that organizations seek. However, those elements require the combined focus of the CMO and CIO, both moving purposefully toward similar goals.

From an era of fighting over resources, a partnership has emerged at high-performing companies: If the CMO can dream it, the CIO can build it.