How CIOs Can Help CMOs Take Technology Leadership - InformationWeek

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How CIOs Can Help CMOs Take Technology Leadership

From the InformationWeek Leadership Conference at Interop: Business units won't wait, so you may as well help them do things right.

Is the era of digital business really all that novel? A technologist might be inclined to say no; the basic requirements for making technology serve business needs haven't changed. But it feels different to business leaders, who are less inclined to follow a CIO's lead on technologies that suddenly feel much more integral to how they do business.

The challenge for IT leaders is to execute a judo move, flipping the maneuvers of business leaders to preserve the momentum of business and the needs of technology.

The changing nature of IT leadership, particularly in relation to marketing-led technology leadership, was one of the major themes of the InformationWeek Leadership Conference at Interop New York. PricewaterhouseCoopers chief technologist Chris Curran, also a principal in the firm's advisory service, had the most to say about the topic, based on PwC research, but practically everyone who took part in the discussions had a story to tell.

[Danger ahead: 3 Meltdown Moments In Digital Strategy.]

"I bristle when I hear people talk about digital being new," Curran admitted. As if every previous generation of computer technology hasn't been based on storing and manipulating digital data?

What's really changed is the transition to digital -- as opposed to paper-based -- marketing and advertising. That transition made digital transactions and communication with customers much more central than they were even a few years ago, when the role of computers might have been more to plan a campaign and maybe do some desktop publishing. Web and mobile interactions have come center stage, and consumer technologies have radically demystified IT.

"The idea that 'digital' has emerged as a topic is really driven by the advertising and marketing and sales world," Curran said.

Michael Healey , president of Yeoman Technology Group and an InformationWeek contributor, had an even more succinct explanation for why marketers like the term digital: "Because it's not an IT term -- marketing doesn't want to be more like IT."

"There's a belief that marketing knows IT really well, maybe better than IT knows marketing," Curran said. Now that business leaders have discovered that technology doesn't have to be painful, he added, the IT organization needs to shake its reputation for delivering awkward-to-use technology late and over budget.

Curran told of a worst-case scenario: A consumer products company where marketing built its own parallel technology organization. IT tried to respond by hiring its own marketing technology specialist, and the result was a "cold war" between marketing and IT. PwC worked with this organization to build trust between the factions, so that IT could review the security and architectural aspects of a cloud service without unduly slowing down adoption. Ultimately, marketing had no objection to consulting IT as long as it retained the right to make the ultimate product selection decision.

"We're moving into a world where IT doesn't run IT anymore," Curran said. "IT is going to be consultative in a way that helps organizations make good decisions."

A CIO today needs to get over himself, said David Wright, CIO at McGraw-Hill Education. "You can't possibly be the center of the universe anymore for technology. More and more, business partners are going to be coming to you with technology that you haven't heard of. You've got to be OK with that -- because it's not all about you."

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David F. Carr oversees InformationWeek's coverage of government and healthcare IT. He previously led coverage of social business and education technologies and continues to contribute in those areas. He is the editor of Social Collaboration for Dummies (Wiley, Oct. 2013) and ... View Full Bio

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User Rank: Ninja
10/3/2014 | 12:01:47 PM
Re: Digital business = need to experiment
@susan -- agree with shared experimentation as a good way to go -- fast prototypes make more sense. In addition to the cultural barriers, perhaps there is also struggle for control and status issues between the CIO and the CMOs -- they do speak different languages, but they are both power players who want to stay on top. The CEO or the culture of the organization has to reward cooperation, which many companies are not set up for.
Shane M. O'Neill
Shane M. O'Neill,
User Rank: Author
10/1/2014 | 5:33:48 PM
Re: Digital business = need to experiment
It's essential that these two C's get along or at least have a sound working relationship. If they're not communicating trouble looms. At what point does the CEO step in?
User Rank: Strategist
10/1/2014 | 4:42:20 PM
Re: Digital business = need to experiment
@David: Share experimentation is absolutely the way to go, especially for CIOs and CMOs who are looking to learn one another's language and overcome some of the cultural barriers that exist between the two disciplines.

I've heard from some CIOs that their CMO won't even give them the time of day. Was there any discussion during the session on what CIOs might do to overcome organziational or cultural silos in their own organizations?
David F. Carr
IW Pick
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
10/1/2014 | 2:22:05 PM
Re: Digital business = need to experiment
One other message Curran had, which didn't quite make it into the story, was about the virtues of creating "shared experiments" between marketing and IT and putting a greater emphasis on creating demos (whipping something together with open source, for example). In other words, building more of the conversation around working code rather than theoretical discussions of what might be possible.
David F. Carr
David F. Carr,
User Rank: Author
10/1/2014 | 2:18:09 PM
Digital business = need to experiment
One of my theories, which Curran more or less agreed with, is that advertisers and marketers have been trained by Google and the web to think in terms of experimentation. They A/B test email subject lines and web content to see what gets a response, and they expect to find it just as easy to test a few alternative technologies that look useful to see which one works best. They want instant feedback, without the need to go through a lengthy IT procurement process.

I'm making it sound like a perfectly reasonable demand, which to some extent it is. However, IT does need to make its present felt in the selection process to avoid the choice of cloud technologies that may be slick and pleasant to use but fall down on security or result in the accumulation of lots of useful data that can't be integrated with anything else for lack of an adequate API.
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