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Guest Column: The CMO-CIO Handshake – an inevitability: Tripti Lochan

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Guest Column: The CMO-CIO Handshake – an inevitability: Tripti Lochan

The roles of the CIO and CMO are coming closer and closer as new-age companies require someone who can move effortlessly between the marketing and technology worlds, writes Tripti Lochan, CEO of VML Qais… 

Historically, the CMO and CIO have been thought of as very different personalities. While the CIO was busy building and managing the organization’s technology infrastructure, the CMO was occupied with making sure the valuable asset, a company’s brand was well taken care of and protected from market vagaries.

By default the CIO role seemed to be more inward looking while the role of the CMO was to watch outwards at all times.

Even the mental images of each had some stereotypes to it for most people. One was bespectacled, serious, practical, decisive, logical, and risk-averse. He was forceful in implementing plans.  And the other more flamboyant, eclectic, frank, decisive and discerning. He enjoyed long-term planning and goal setting.

But then came along a change that would destroy the stereotype. She became digital. She was always on a screen. Suddenly brands were not limited to exposure to a specific time that was called “TV time”, or to radio while she traveled to and back from work.  And suddenly we had the capability of understanding her better. Not through research sampling, or focus groups where questions were asked of 20 odd people, but understanding each one of our customers through every mobile moment that she was in.  Enter Big Data and the explosion of digital ad spending.

And the worlds of our two erstwhile very distinct gentlemen started moving at a phenomenal pace towards each other like two planets on a collision course.

The CMOs and their organization have been collecting an unprecedented amount of customer data for a long time – sometimes just sitting in silos, sometimes not used.  But now they needed to extract insights to increase revenue and profits.  And that necessarily meant more and more dependence on the organization’s technology structure to find prospective customers, identify their “hot buttons” and reach them through the most effective digital channels.  The CIOs have the expertise in the development of IT architectures and the execution of large programs needed to create the company’s big data backbone and generate the necessary insights.  Now, they had to turn their attention outward to support all types of digital marketing programs, from social media and email campaigns to dynamic web content and customer analytics.

But remember how different they are – they could be from two different planets, not having a common language to communicate?  And therein lies the issue; small misunderstandings between IT and marketing can escalate quickly into clashes that fuel un co-operative behavior and in the extreme, even deliberate sabotage.  According to an Accenture report, nearly half (49 per cent) of CIOs say marketing pulls in technologies without consideration for IT standards.  46 per cent say the marketing team lacks understanding of data integration.

What would need to change?  We need the business-minded CIO to join forces with the technology-smart CMO so that brands can strategically engage customers throughout their life cycle to drive business growth. While the CIO must lead a strong business technology agenda, the CMO is the Chief Experience Officer.  And they must find common grounds that intersect to the benefit of the organization.  And the organization itself must shift its thinking of IT from being a cost center to being a business-revenue facilitator and enabler.  But this is a slow process, and requires change that is not easy to make, even when refereed by the CEO of the organization.

Many organizations are making a structural change by creating a new role – that of the Chief Digital Officer.  The CDO is a new business role that understands customers, data, and technology.  And quite a few organizations are on track to appoint CDOs.  According to Gartner, by the end of 2015, 1 in 4 organizations globally will have a CDO.  He is the CEO’s answer to dealing with the divide that the CIO/CMO conflict has caused.  Defining this role is not enough though.  There is a much deeper organizational change – of structure, processes, and objectives setting that needs to take place.  But there is hope that we will get more customer-focused.  We will harness the power of technology in this journey to build our brand around the customer. The Chief Digital Officer will take us into the new era of 1-to-1 marketing with the customer.

And he will be a superhero because he bridges the gaps, and speaks two languages with equal ease. Neither of which are dispensable to business success anymore.

(The author is the CEO of VML Qais)

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