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Meet tech's new odd couple: the CIO and CMO

Beth Stackpole | March 4, 2016
CMOs and CIOs typically come from different backgrounds and have different perspectives, but making their relationship work is critical to the digital business.

Eliminating friction

At SAS Institute, a provider of data analytics and business intelligence software, alignment between marketing and IT is crucial to the company's goal of delivering a "frictionless" experience to engage the customer, says executive vice president and CIO Keith Collins. It's not about a specific social media, marketing automation or call center strategy, he says. Rather, it's about having all areas of the business work together to eliminate friction with the customer to make the experience shine.

Melding core systems so marketers can analyze data for actionable insights into the behavior and buying habits of their customers is where IT-marketing alignment pays off. In the Forrester study on CMO-CIO collaboration, three-quarters of both marketing and tech management leaders said they place a priority on customer intelligence, yet only 46 percent of the marketers and 51 percent of the tech leaders said they feel confident that they had achieved a single view of the customer across all relevant touch points throughout the customer life cycle.

"That's why we're seeing a shift in investments and across business units about the idea of working together," Collins says. "With shadow IT efforts, marketing looks at their slice of what they do with the customer, but they have no holistic viewpoint. IT works with each of the different units and has the opportunity and responsibility to create a more holistic view of the customer as well as integrated business processes."

To promote alignment and cross-departmental collaboration, Collins and his CMO counterpart meet regularly with other marketing and IT leaders, along with representatives from the legal department, to keep SAS on its course for digital transformation.

Collins says it's important to foster alignment not just within the leadership team, but among the rank and file too. To do that, he and the CMO nurture teams of IT and marketing staffers, engage in cross-functional project management practices, and jointly apply agile processes to keep projects moving. "It's important that the relationship between CIO and CMO is great, but what's even more important is that the relationship of the team executing the plan is great," Collins says.

Merging the roles

A handful of organizations have taken CMO-CIO alignment to the extreme and made one executive responsible for both functions. Michael Burroughs, whose background is in operations, has held that singular role at a couple of organizations, most recently at an online purveyor of health-related products. Promoted recently to vice president of digital marketing and information, Burroughs says the combined role makes the most sense for companies that are invested in doing all they can to leverage customer data.

"The type of industry or company that has a desire to know everything they can possibly know about the customer... is the sweet spot for this particular role," he says. "You're looking for data that can be the difference between 10 percent growth and staying flat, and it's not always obvious. The ability to sift through that data requires strength on the marketing and technology sides, and if the technology team is isolated from the process, failure is likely."


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