It’s been a while since I’ve felt the need to respond to an article about the CIO role, but a recent piece on the US CIO site titled Are CIOs destined to work for the CMO? contained so many sweeping and unsubstantiated statements in order to support the attention seeking headline, that I couldn’t let it pass without comment.
It’s worth stating from the outset that the article is predominantly based on comments made by Larry Weber, chairman and CEO of W2 Group. Now, W2 Group is a marketing services company, which means it’s a vendor that works for and with marketing functions. Mr Weber is also founder of a PR company that bears his name so he clearly knows how to generate publicity. It’s fairly obvious therefore that his comments are designed to obtain publicity for his companies whilst also seeking favour with their target customers, CMOs. And in this instance it is being achieved at the expense of the CIO.
Given his perceived motives Weber’s comments should not carry too much weight but because they make a good headline (no doubt the intention) they are likely to hang around for some time, being reproduced across many web sites and social media channels and all the time doing damage to the reputation of the CIO role. It’s a cheap shot and it deserves a response.
Weber cites a number of challenges facing the CIO as reasons for his views about the role. These include cultural differences between marketing and IT, the need for a more collaborative working style which is different to how IT has operated in the past and the fact that IT staff dress differently to marketing staff (yes, seriously). All this detailed analysis and insight leads Weber to conclude that “ultimately I don’t see the CIO long-term being as important as the CMO.” But fear not CIOs as according to Weber “there will still be all the traditional boring stuff of IT, so the CIO will still have a job.” Phew.
Weber’s comments about the need for closer collaboration between IT and marketing is a valid one. CIOs and IT functions certainly have some work to do to develop these skills and to adapt their processes and approach to the fast-paced world of digital. But this is a two-way street; CMOs and marketing functions also need to improve in these areas. Collaborative working requires good two-way communication and a willingness to listen to the views of your partners. It is a change from the subservient service-provider/customer relationship that has existed between IT and marketing in the past and which is implied by Weber’s comments.
On the subject of security and specifically in cases where the CIO may object to a software service that the CMO wants to use if that service poses a security or compliance risk that could have significant implications if ignored, Weber suggests that the CEO will be required to arbitrate. But he also follows this statement by declaring “but I think that, in most cases, he will side with the marketing people.” No rationale or justification is given for this view.
Kathleen Schaub, a vice president at IDC’s CMO Advisory Service, also contributed to the article. Her two main contributions were to suggest that the CEO should “recognise the CMO/CIO relationship, and give the CMO a stronger voice in company strategy,” (not an entirely surprising view from someone who works as an advisor to CMOs); and secondly to recommend combining the CMO and CIO roles if the working relationship between the two individuals was problematic. Although she doesn’t offer an opinion as to which person should take on the combined role I think we could all take an educated guess as to where her preferences would lie.
It may come as a surprise to both Weber and Schaub but there’s a lot more to organisations than just the marketing function and there’s a lot more to IT than just helping to select software. The rest of the business also has technology needs, some of which are at least as important as those of the marketing function. These needs will be met by working with the CIO and the IT function who have to take an enterprise view of issues such as security, integration, data, etc, to protect the organisation’s overall investment in technology and to maintain the integrity of its systems and data.
Marketing is not a special case, it’s just happens to be where a lot of the focus and investment is at the moment. Organisations cannot allow CMOs or any other executive to ignore security, privacy or compliance risks. And neither can they afford to get locked-in to a vendor because IT’s advice on standards, data models or contracts was ignored by a gung-ho marketing function, or to be affected by regular service interruptions or long outages because the vendors small print on service levels was not understood or even read.
Weber does, however, make two valid points, which unfortunately will get lost in the noise of the sensational headline:
- CMOs do not want to learn technology; they just need it to work and will need to work with the CIO to ensure they get the right software; and
- CMOs will need to get more tech-savvy whilst CIOs will need to become more marketing-savvy.
Other than those two points, the only thing that CIOs can take from the article is that it serves as a reminder that they need to transform their department and their own role so that both are relevant for the digital age. And if they do this successfully then rather than being destined to work for CMOs, CIOs are destined to work with their marketing peers in leading and shaping their organisation’s digital future.