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The CIO-CMO relationship is one of the most important in any digital business. Get the relationship right and it will result in sustained innovation and growth and deliver enhanced customer and staff experience.

Get it wrong, and even in organisations where the CEO professes to embrace digital transformation and the CIO and CMO want to work together, both your operations and your digital transformation agenda will struggle.

Creating strategic partnerships between the CIO and the CMO was the focus of a major piece of research conducted by CIO.co.uk for Adobe and Microsoft, and was the theme of a symposium, ‘Charting the new CIO-CMO accord, held in London in June 2019.

Chily Fachler, the Chief Digital and Information Officer of Steinhoff UK Retail, a £700m turnover company operating the Bensons for Beds and Harveys furniture high street brands, led off the discussion by drawing on his own experience – being promoted from CIO to a role which adds in Chief Digital Officer responsibilities.

‘I’ve always been frustrated that digital has been seen as the domain of the creative part of the business. While that is correct, it also has to be led by other parts of the business', said Fachler, whose Chief Digital and Information Officer role was created after the marketing director left.

It has proved a steep learning curve, but after six months, Fachler says, the IT and marketing teams are working more closely than ever before.

There has been a notion that IT and marketing have traditionally clashed, he said, – citing, ‘the spectre of shadow IT.’ But, he warned, ‘that fear – who has got control of it (technology)? Whose budget does it belong to? will kill companies. There is so much that both sides have to give to make it work.’

‘I’m finding, bringing it all together, that we are talking about things we wouldn’t have done before, because it was all too siloed. There’s the art and the science. IT is about the science and marketing is about the art, but you can’t do one without the other.’

‘I’m saying use the data and then talk to the customer. Do I know how to talk to the customer? Not nearly as well as the marketing people do. Do I know how to understand the customer? Well I can help… Bringing it together has been eye opening for me and it is working pretty well.’

The CIO survey, however, presented a more fractured picture with 26 percent saying the CIO and CMO ‘are strategic partners in meeting our corporate goals,’ but 23 percent saying, ‘The CIO and CMO are struggling to align their thinking, priorities and systems.’

Panellist Martin Smith, Head of EMEA Partner Marketing at Adobe, said active intervention by the CEO was essential in overcoming problems of a CIO – CMO split and questions of systems and data ownership. ‘Organisations have to be data driven from the top,’ he said. ‘Who owns the data, is then, no longer a question, because everything is driven from the board.’

Executive mandates are essential but real-world problems will continue to exist. Issues associated with data quality and data siloes loom large in every enterprise and featured at the CIO-CMO discussion. This prompted Gia Thom from Microsoft to speak about the Open Data Initiative which is being jointly developed by Microsoft, Adobe and SAP. It provides a common data platform that allows businesses to more easily break down data siloes and develop AI-driven insights that enhance customer experience.

She cited the example of EasyJet, where IT and marketing combined to deliver a ‘Look and Book’ system that presented Instagram consumers browsing holiday venue pictures with relevant travel advertising – and a great ROI for the airline.

Thom also cited Unilever, which is using data from its SAP systems combined with marketing data residing in Adobe-based systems to work out how best to carry through a pledge to use totally Green packaging by 2025. 

The Open Data Initiative is powered by three major vendors, but data has also been subject to increased regulatory intervention. Last year’s GDPR deadline provided a wake-up call for many businesses around their acquisition, storage and use of data. Fachler said whatever concerns he may initially have had about GDPR being a burden, quickly disappeared. ‘It was the right thing to do, and the rules are quite sensible. You want customers on the database who want to be there.’

Audience member Philip Clayson, CIO at property group Countrywide PLC, agreed.The requirement to achieve compliance on a single given date, and within relatively short timelines, by all companies from FTSE to start-up, helped to avoid a multi-tier business society, where large enterprises where favoured or penalised over small ones,’ he said.

The lasting value, he added, will though come from ensuring GDPR compliance ‘is maintained, and that regulation continues to provide the appropriate governance in the long term, and that GDPR activity within companies keeps appropriate momentum.’

Another CIO described how GDPR regulation crashed into unrealistic targets set by the board. ‘The board believed volume of records in our CRM was important and targeted us with doubling the numbers. GDPR meant we more than halved the size but those records remaining were active and since May 2018 it has grown again to pre GDPR cleansing sizes, with a substantially higher percentage of active records. The importance is the quality and accuracy of the data and not the quantity.’

While the panel and the audience were overwhelmingly enthusiastic about the new CIO-CMO accord, there was a discussion about whether the roles could be merged and about differences between IT and marketing and the position of Chief Digital Officers in an organisation.

Jeremy Dunderdale, Head of Business Solutions at restaurant chain TGI Fridays, put the issue succinctly. ‘If the CIO and CMO merge, where does that leave finance and the other core components of the business?  IT and marketing need to work more closely, but IT should be working closely with all components of the business, as IT is core to all business functions.’ 

A CMO, in the mainly CIO audience, said the discussion convinced him that marketing had to start selling itself internally. ‘We have to build a bridge of explanation to the rest of the business about what marketing is, and we have to complement it with knowledge the CIO brings. I’ve never had a negative experience with the IT department,’ he added.

Nikolaos Giannakakis, the Chief Technical Officer at British American Tobacco, was keen to highlight the CTO’s role as the ‘gateway to innovation’ in the new digital landscape and a ‘provider of a robust innovation pipeline to feed the CIO-CMO partnership’.

‘The CIO,’ he said, ‘is responsible for the best fit of traditional applications and solutions to the organisation and also the key custodian of business transformation from within, whereas the CTO is the doorkeeper of the overall innovation.’

With job titles evolving as rapidly as the business environment changes, Fachler thought the question of whether IT and Marketing functions should merge, or job titles should merge was less significant than whether organisations could form an ‘alliance of teams’ to deliver digital transformation. ‘There is a lot to be said for the marketing function getting to know the customers, then you as the IT department enabling it,’ he said.

If there was a general willingness to embrace the new CIO-CMO accord, Countrywide’s Clayson noted that not only did organisation’s CEO and board have to drive digital from the top, they had to take account of the constraints of both functions, including, for example, ‘dealing with IT and Marketing legacies which remain in a business, and ensure a balance between forward looking activity and resolving legacies of the past.’

It is going to be a journey, but as one CIO at the event said, ‘I’ve put in countless financial systems in my career. Now I have the chance to work with marketing – which brings innovation and fun stuff….’

Please follow the link here to explore the key takeaways from the evolving CIO-CMO relationship and to find out how collaboration can truly revolutionise the customer experience.