The Changing Role of the CIO

Today's businesses are no longer operating in the era of the passive customer, with consumers eagerly awaiting the latest and greatest campaign messages before making their purchasing decisions. Thanks to the growth of channels such as social networks and mobile devices, that model has been flipped on its head. What businesses are left with is a growing number of consumers who are not only connected but are taking control of their brand relationships like never before.

So who takes responsibility for engaging with this new generation? The onus is on the CMO and the CIO to make sure the business is ready to serve this empowered customer. Forging this alliance sounds easy enough, but truth be told, it's not as simple as you might think. Marketers—and I am one of them—have not traditionally regarded our IT brethren in the most positive of lights. It's not because some of them prevented us from putting Napster or PointCast on our PCs, but rather because they often acted as a major roadblock when it came to experimenting with new technologies that had the potential to help us more efficiently meet the needs of customers.

Of course I am 100 percent biased, but in many ways, this is really true. While many CIOs were mired in a long, painful process of working through IT needs, marketers did what everyone else did—we went ahead and circumvented them altogether. I am not talking about installing Napster (which I did, of course) but rather implementing large marketing technology solutions. That's right—while no one was looking, marketers identified vendors and "piecemealed" systems together. Imagine a new homeowner (and not always with the necessary technical expertise) trying to rewire his own house. That's exactly what we did, and in the end, we were left with a complicated siloed system of solutions prone to inefficient and uncoordinated marketing strategies.

I'm certainly not condoning this approach, but in reality, marketers often had little choice. Until recently, some CIOs rarely considered how their processes affected their customer-focused colleagues. As a result, we were stuck in a lengthy holding pattern (cue hold music). The answer in this new customer-driven age is simple. CIOs need to move away from being seen as an obstruction to marketing success and instead become a trusted partner who provides added value to the CMO by helping us connect with the right technologies at the right time. To do this, they must adopt a front line focus that is both agile and capable of quickly responding to marketing needs.

This shift starts by accepting the fact that the one-size-fits-all approach to marketing does not work. Marketers' needs all differ, and they shift frequently. As a result, each need must be addressed in a shorter time frame and often with solutions that may only be temporary. CIOs and their teams must build an experimental space where marketers have breathing room to test solutions and ultimately move projects along on a three- to six-month basis. While marketing will have longer lead technology needs, this space is vital in ensuring that the most critical and short-term projects are addressed.

As you would expect, there will be members of the IT team who do not welcome this new model. When these instances surface, CIOs should be cognizant of the ramifications—marketers will sidestep IT in favor of third-party vendors, an approach that will ultimately hurt a business in the long run, leaving it with a set of poorly integrated solutions.

Instead, CIOs should take the reins, give marketers the space they need to experiment, and if outside vendors are needed, make sure IT is the one managing those relationships. CIOs should also consider leveraging cloud infrastructure and SaaS solutions, which tend to shorten implementation time, as well as pre-integrated solutions, to minimize custom-built applications wherever possible.

And while agility is important, it is only part of the story. The CIO should also follow marketing's lead and step away from the back office to focus some attention on the customer. Traditionally, IT has often left customer issues up to the marketing team, but in today's world, IT has to be at the very heart of a customer-centric approach.

At this point in time, CMOs are clearly showing a solid understanding of this new climate, with many focusing on their front office needs while also building a relationship with their CIOs so they can be part of back-office technology decisions. And with Gartner predicting CMOs will influence more of the IT budget by 2017, the onus is on CIOs to ensure that marketers make the right purchases. This journey begins with the CIOs understanding marketing's front office needs. Through this education, they will be able to more easily assess issues and introduce solutions that will ultimately make a major impact on their company's revenue growth.

Not convinced?

According to a new study put out by IBM's Center for Applied Insights titled "Why Leading Marketers Outperform," leading marketers not only recognize the importance of technology but also have a strong working relationship with their IT colleagues. Still not convinced? How about this—businesses armed with these forward-thinking marketing organizations have three-year revenue CAGR 40 percent higher than that of other companies, and their gross profit is growing at a rate double that of their peers. Now if that isn't enough to bring together marketing and IT, I don't know what is.

Jay Henderson is the global strategy program director within IBM's Enterprise Marketing Management group. His team is responsible for market analysis, customer insight, and industry marketing functions. He has more than 15 years' experience in multichannel marketing and customer analytics. Prior to joining Unica, which was acquired by IBM, he ran marketing at ClearForest and served in various marketing roles at SPSS (also part of IBM), NetGenesis, and Cambridge Technology Group.

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