Insights & Ideas

CMO and CIO - A Big Data Double Act

Marketing is the biggest spender on technology in any organization, barring the IT department itself. It’s big data and the analytics needed to make sense out of that data mountain which are the largest elements fuelling this marketing technology spend. Back in 2012, analyst firm Gartner predicted that CMOs will actually be spending more on technology than the IT department by 2017.

This greater marketing technology spend requires greater collaboration between the chief marketing officer (CMO) and the chief information officer (CIO).If CMOs want to truly take best advantage of big data and analytics, then they are going to need to properly (rather than reluctantly) partner their CIO to do it.

It’s easy to see why this relationship hasn’t always been amicable. CMOs and CIOs are very different beasts: risk taking creatives on the one hand and process-driven safety freaks on the other (grand sweeping generalizations, I know). They have often been on opposite sides of the battle: CMOs wanting to quick results and action, CIOs saying ‘no’ to every suggestion, citing costs and risks.

An Accenture study suggests that relationship between the two is actually thawing considerably, but there are a few areas where the gap seems to be widening. Some 40% of the CMOs surveyed complained that IT didn’t understand the urgency required of integrating new data sources into their campaigns. More than four in 10 said they thought that the whole technology development process was too slow to meet the demands of digital marketing.  

The CIOs hit back with criticisms that marketing changed their requirements and priorities so much that they had trouble keeping up with them. Furthermore, one in four CIOs suspected their CMOs lacked the vision to anticipate new channels.

There’s clearly room for improvement in the relationship; the CMO and CIO should be a winning double act – the Morecambe and Wise of the big data initiative (though I’m not sure which is which).  They are much better and stronger together. On the one side, marketing has the knowledge to ask the right questions of the data, on the other, IT has the knowledge of how the best tools to do it.

The two camps have had to work together before, of course, but big data and analytics requires a different, much closer, working relationship. This type of project doesn’t follow the tried and tested requirements of building, testing and deployment that IT is used to following. The approach with big data and the analytics is more iterative, involving experimentation and based on new architectures. Using the cloud rather than on-premise solutions is enabling a much faster and more cost effective turnaround for both CMOs and CIOs alike.

To make this relationship work, it’s important for marketing to bring in the CIO early on in strategic discussions, according to the CMO Council's report, “Big Data’s Biggest Role: Aligning the CMO and the CIO,”. In that way, CIOs may well be able to suggest tools that would help CMOs tackle the data pool they want to look at. The report suggests that the CMO’s chief role is to create the customer engagement strategy, while IT should be responsible for measuring that engagement.

It’s also the CMO’s role to clearly define the business goals and to pinpoint the exactly what information they are trying to determine. It’s the CIOs job to work out the feasibility of achieving that, coming up with different options and costs.

To ensure this relationship goes deeper than a monthly email update, people from both disciplines should be involved in defining the data use requirements and all aspects of that data’s journey from concept to action.

Even when both parties are committed to the partnership and open to collaboration, it’s not an easy thing to get right. CMOs need staff who can ‘speak’ technology and IT needs fluent ‘marketing’ to prevent misunderstandings.

The debate over who is in charge of big data largely seems to have been one by marketing. What’s more important that whether there’s an ‘M’ or an ‘I’ in the job title, however, is that someone is acknowledged to be in charge upfront and that responsibilities are clearly defined.  The cliché about singing from the same song sheet holds true: both need to shake off the departmental blinkers and see data as a business asset, rather than the possession of the marketing or the IT department.

Running pilots, which test the team as much as the technology, will make future projects stronger. It’s okay to fail, as long as lessons are learned. And it’s much better to fail on small project and apply the best practice to a bigger initiative.

The key to a harmonious working relationship is to get that team dynamic right, keep those lines of communication open and to know who is in charge of each aspect of the project’s journey. 

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