CIO reporting to the CMO – are you serious?

woman_drawing_org_chartIt is not new news that the CIO at hotel group Marriott International reports to the firm’s CMO but it resurfaced again recently in an article published by CMSWire titled “Should the CIO Report to the CMO?” The fact that Marriott’s CIO reports to its CMO first surfaced in December last year when the organisation’s senior director of eCommerce Platform System Management told delegates at a conference in Boston about the unusual reporting arrangement. The original story was also published on the CMSWire site.

The latest CMSWire piece relies on the views of three contributors who give their thoughts on whether an organisation’s technology leader should report to its head of marketing. Conveniently the views of the contributors are split three ways with one supporting the argument, one being against with the third saying “it depends.” So I guess it is left up to the reader to make up their own minds having read the three viewpoints.

The argument in favour of the reporting line change is based on data and analytics; using data to understand customer behaviour and preferences is key to marketers. A close relationship between IT and marketing is therefore essential to achieve this level of understanding. So putting IT under the marketing function is a logical step, apparently.

The data is important to marketing therefore we should change the reporting line of the CIO argument is such a simplistic and naïve one that it hardly warrants a response. But negative headlines about the CIO role, and particularly when connected to the CMO role, have a tendency of gaining more media coverage and momentum than they deserve (see Can we trust the analysts? for another example) so in this instance a reply seems necessary.

Marketing is not the only part of the organisation that relies on data. In fact, just about every other function has been using data for years – long before it became a hot topic in marketing. Certainly the volume of data available to marketing is vast and growing, and there is an increasing need to be able capture, store and quickly analyse these large data sets. But then that’s also something that other functions are already doing. For example, manufacturers of engines, turbines and other heavy machinery collect data from their equipment all over the world so that preventative maintenance can be performed before a component fails. If you apply the logic of the marketing argument to these businesses then the IT function should also report to the engineering department.

And there is a lot more to IT than just data. What about communications, devices, applications, security, architecture, integration, selecting and managing technology vendors, etc? Data is very important to the digital business but without all the other stuff you’re unlikely to have much data to analyse! Is this something the CMO should be spending their time on? And do they have the relevant experience and expertise to lead on these areas?

In the digital age technology is being used to disrupt industries, create new business models, products and services. It has never been so important, so strategic and so fundamental. Digital spans the entire organisation; it is a lot more than just marketing. To be successful in the digital age businesses need a strong CIO and IT function that work across the business to ensure an integrated and consistent approach to technology. The CIO has a key role to play in shaping and leading the digital transformation of their organisation. But to do this they need to be part of the senior management team instead of being buried under the marketing function.

What is certain though is that there needs to be a close working relationship between marketing and IT to ensure marketing can access the data it needs, when it needs it and has the right tools available to monitor and analyse that data. But that’s no different to how IT must work with other functions to ensure they have the data and tools they need. Marketing is not a unique case. And if there isn’t a good working relationship between the two functions, then the answer is to get the CMO and CIO to address the underlying issue, not make one report to the other. And if that’s not possible then you need to replace one or both of them.

Changing the lines on your org chart may be a quick fix to get two functions to work closely with each other but it is not sustainable in the long-term. And treating the IT department as a back-office support function that can be shunted around the org chart in response to trends will limit the digital potential of any organisation.

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  1. […] to the CEO). The CIO reporting to the CMO theme has appeared before and I wrote an article, CIO reporting to the CMO – are you serious?, to address this issue just in case any organisations were thinking about making such a change. […]

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