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How to Bridge the Divide Between the CIO and Marketing

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When it comes to creating a digital business, who leads the charge? It’s tempting to say the CIO, but there’s simply too much overlap between marketing and IT functions for an easy answer. Take chatbots, for example. Would this be the domain of CMOs, under whom community engagement and customer experience falls? Or should that fall to the CIO? And just who should have final say when it comes to the IoT strategy? Yes, the technology involved may be under the purview of the CIO, but marketing is heavily reliant on the insights that will come from the data gathered.

Throw in wildly different leadership priorities and operational language, and you have a recipe for confusion. It’s no wonder many organisations are running up against a fundamental disconnect between their marketing and IT functions. But just how bad is the divide? A 2014 Accenture study found that less than a quarter of marketers thought that the level of collaboration between CMOs and CIOs was where it needed to be.

So how do you fix it? The two cannot work together as long as CIOs view their jobs as primarily keeping the lights on, and CMOs consider themselves the sole custodians of the brand. The two may not need to walk a mile in each other’s shoes, but they do need to find ways to work together towards a common goal. Here’s what they can do to start.

Create a roadmap for change
One of the main points of friction between CIO and CMO comes from not having clarity on their respective roles and accountability in rolling out digitisation. This is why it’s important to start by sitting down together and creating a shared vocabulary, by creating a comprehensive roadmap for the future. McKinsey advises that the overall vision should include business goals, use cases, feasibility and priorities. This should be followed by what each person’s key performance indicators are going to be, particularly around the customer experience.

There’s no need to leap straight into an ambitious partnership right away, especially if you have a big communication gap to overcome. It’s often advisable to start small, with a few collaborative projects, and then scale up as you become more comfortable talking each other’s lingo.

Bring down the siloes any way you can
Now that you’ve determined your objectives, you need to make sure you don’t come up short on execution. That requires not just the right skills, but enabling collaboration and communication between departments. Build cross-functional teams with a good mix of marketing and data IT knowledge, and make the objectives clear from the start. The ultimate goal of these teams should be to define and act on the data.

At the same time, you need to be nurturing those skills within your own department, so that IT has a working knowledge of marketing and customer experience. The stereotype of the IT nerd in the basement, who doesn’t ‘get’ people, needs to be done away with forever. And even as you buff up you and your department’s own marketing knowledge, you should be working with your marketing counterparts to ensure they have an understanding of intelligence and automation technologies.

Do you need a CDO?
If, despite all of your attempts at speaking the same language, you still find yourself lost in translation, it may be time to get an interpreter. More and more companies are bridging the gap between marketing and IT by appointing people who can integrate the two, as chief digital officers.

One large South African telco, for example, has a CDO working alongside its CIO and CMO. While the CMO looks after the digital side of the company, the CDO is responsible for enterprise digitisation. The role of the CIO is to enable them both at the back-end, putting in place the infrastructure and skills to be able to support their efforts. Meanwhile, over at Barclays, the CDO owns both digital channels and IT.

Let the customer be your guide
Whatever form the partnership between CIO and CMO takes, it must be unified around the customer experience. Don’t fret too much about preconceived roles about what it means to be an IT or marketing exec, and prepare to be flexible if your current governance models aren’t meeting the customer experience metrics you’ve agreed to.

What are your experiences with integrating marketing with more traditional IT functions? Have you found a partnership style that works for you?

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