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Dawn of the hybrid CIO

Dawn of the hybrid CIO

Does a new strategic frontier lie at the intersection of technology and marketing capabilities? A new report says it does, but to realise it requires a fundamental shift in some long-standing attitudes and beliefs.

Both share the common objective of growing the business, but rifts between CIOs and CMOs are commonplace — the result of misconceptions and outdated, stereotypical views about the other’s priorities. One is seen to have a short-term focus, the other long-term. One is the left brain of the organisation, the other the right.

According to a new whitepaper from Forrester, if organisations are to capture an increasing share of a customer’s lifetime disposable income, a fundamental shift in the relationship between CIO and CMO is needed. Long-held views by CIOs that marketing is spin and that marketers don’t care about integration need to be jettisoned. Similarly, marketing’s perceptions that IT doesn’t understand its need for speed, that it isn’t concerned with the customer, or that IT is the department of ‘no’ have to go.

Yet according to the study, marketing and IT have much in common. Both roles have a mutual interest in establishing an innovative culture, and while the CMO is often accountable in direct terms, measuring success in terms of market share or customer growth, the CIO needs to show how technology investment contributes to business growth. Marketing focuses on customer value and experience, but IT is also increasingly customer-focused, albeit internally. And of course, both have to work within ever-tightening budgets.

The study, Mastering Customer Data — A CIO Imperative, says the big opportunity for both IT and marketing lies in mastering customer data flow.

“In the future, the companies that thrive against competitors will be those that embrace their empowered customers and become obsessed with delivering a unique, tailored brand experience,” it states.

“To do that, firms must master not just the data but the flow of that data to push actionable intelligence to all edges of the organisation. This will enable customer-facing staff and systems to deliver compelling brand experiences in a consistent way, thereby boosting brand loyalty and revenue.”

In other words, a new level of collaboration between IT and marketing is required which, in turn, will deliver value to the organisation around the customer in four key areas.

First, marketing and IT must enable the different parts of the organisation to gather customer interaction data from all internal and external customer channels in a consistent way. The next challenge will be for the analytics team to create actionable insights that support specific business outcomes. Marketing and IT must then create output from the customer data that targets the employees and partners who have the potential to interact with customers. Finally, frontline operatives and customer-facing systems need to be enabled to consistently deliver answers to a specific customer need at a specific touchpoint to create a compelling and customised brand experience.

Notably, the report suggests that to facilitate such a customer data flow, CIOs have to focus on people and process first in setting up a successful marketing partnership and only tackle big technology challenges after a solid foundation of trust is established.

As one CIO quoted in the study put it: “You have to begin with the assumption that you are each highly competent in your own domain — the trouble is everyone thinks they know marketing because they see advertising, and everyone thinks they know technology because they use it every day.”

To overcome this, the study suggests that CIOs hire staff with marketing expertise to work alongside the marketing team.

“You need to look for a person in IT who understands the sales and marketing process, and marketing needs to put someone on their team who understands technology to work alongside them,” another CIO said.

Implicit in this is the necessity of developing new IT processes to support proactive marketing collaboration. According to the study, IT must move beyond what it calls its “one-size-fits-all approach to IT process and governance” to deliver more flexibility and responsiveness, and when necessary react to changes in the market in real time.

Although it might be a hard pill to swallow, the report argues that IT has to let go of control of technology.

“With the adoption of software-as-a-service and managed digital strategy platforms, it is important for CIOs to let go of control of the tools and instead focus on standards and guidelines for marketing,” it says.

“Cloud technologies deliver unprecedented opportunities for IT groups to move out of the basement and get away from maintaining hardware. By deploying cloud-based software-as-a-service and infrastructure, CIOs can free up valuable IT resources to focus on delivering business value.”

In summary, Forrester’s report concludes that only marketing and IT have the skills and the capacity — together — to help companies become customer-obsessed, master the flow of customer data, and thrive in what it suggests is the “coming age of the customer”.

“Such a close alignment of IT and marketing will require the introduction of hybrid marketing and IT professionals: Specialists in their primary field who are fully versed in how to operate in the other field," it states.

“By collaborating with marketing, CIOs shift the IT discussion away from the unrelenting drive to reduce the cost of IT and instead can focus on how to use technology to increase revenue and competitive advantage.”

The bottom line? Instead of asking how much the CIO has saved lately, CEOs are more likely to ask how much revenue IT has generated.

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