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Customers' digital behavior drives CIOs to partner with CDOs, CMOs

Clint Boulton | May 23, 2016
CIOs from CVS Health and JetBlue insist it doesn’t matter whether they work with CDOs, CMOs or other executives as long as their efforts meet customer demands.

At many companies, marketing and IT have long enjoyed a contentious relationship, with the CMO striving to move fast to get ahead of customer trends with little concern for business risks, leaving the CIO scrambling to pump the breaks. But as customers prefer to connect with their brands digitally, CIOs and CMOs find themselves working together rather than at cross purposes.

For this digital flight, please check that ego

As far as JetBlue Airways CIO Eash Sundaram is concerned, whether the CIO, CMO or CDO own digital is of little consequence as long as the business is giving customers what it wants. CIOs and other senior leaders need to check their egos at the door. "Leave the titles at home and come to work with a vision to make a new customer experience and then see how you want to structure your organization," Sundaram says.

Sundaram works closely with Marty St. George, JetBlue’s executive vice president of commercial & planning, to deliver digital capabilities. They share resources -- St. George has moved some of his marketing team to Sundaram's IT team -- and operate under the belief that the airline's customers drive its digital strategy.

Sundaram and St. George sit on the board of JetBlue Technology Ventures, an effort Sundaram leads to invest in technology startups that could help the airline improve passenger and employee experiences, as well as better leverage data in, the travel and hospitality industries. The venture unit is housed in GSVLabs, the Redwood City, Calif. incubator that is close to technology startups native to Silicon Valley. Sundaram says the startups JetBlue chooses to invest in could fill gaps in the airline’s technology portfolio, helping it to better serve customers.

The panel’s focus on growing digital capabilities was off-putting to at least one audience member, who said the panelists were suggesting that teaching traditional information management wasn’t a good tack for training future technology leaders. Gold said that universities must teach both fundamental IT management skills as well as what it means to be a business-focused CIO. "You have to understand the architecture of how the systems get built and maintained,” Gold said.


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