Evolution of the CIO: what’s next?

The alarm bells are sounding, declaring the CIO a historical relic. The exact wording depends on the pundit you choose, but the basic premise is that since technology is so vital to so many business operations, line-of-business leaders want and need control over their own purchasing and maintenance decisions. Some thinkers say that the CIO is destined (or doomed) to become a serf in marketing’s kingdom. Needless to say, that notion has caused some tempers to flare.

Such drama is hardly surprising. The CIO’s role has long been one defined and driven by crisis and panic—first Y2K, then the drive to control costs and automate processes in the dot-com collapse, and again a few years later in the global credit crunch. And there is evidence that the CIO’s role as technological gatekeeper is shrinking. According to a global survey of over 1,000 C-level executives, IT now controls just 63 percent of corporate technology spend.

CIO and CMO: the perfect match?

There is another future, however—that of a strong, collaborative bond between the CIO and CMO. No two business leaders are as ideally positioned to deal with the surplus of customer data, the copious channels of communication, and the unbounded possibilities of a real-time, connected global society.

Daniel Doman, a consulting CIO with IT and operational leadership experience at companies including Beyond the Rack and Accoona, is shocked that anybody doubts the need for a tight bond between CIO and CMO. “The easiest way to explain my surprise is to say that the lines of what a CIO is and does have been blurred. Before, the technology served what the business did. Now, the technology is the business,” he says. “And the CIO is increasingly responsible for new revenue opportunities and new products.”

Product over technology, brand over product

Because developing and leveraging technology in a unique way is so critical to business, Doman sees the CIO’s responsibilities now being inseparable from fundamental marketing strategies. “The CIO role is really half technology manager and half product manager,” he says. “You’re not working on technology in a vacuum, you’re doing it with an eye towards the message you can send to potential customers and to the market, and being aware of how the market is reacting.”

CIOs and CMOs have both faced a dramatic change in mandate since the dot-com collapse. Both are increasingly responsible for generating tangible business results, not merely providing the necessary lubrication to get customers in and out the door. Doman feels that CIOs have been particularly adept at creating revenue streams out of what were previously cost centers and liabilities. “It’s more and more common for companies to leverage products out of what used to be pain points in their own operations, such as the companies who had to deal with large amounts of data as a necessary evil now offering data services and analytics to their customers,” he says.

Doman believes that even more important than the CIO’s role in product development is the increasingly shared role of brand evangelist. “Obviously, the CMO is still going to go to conferences and present to companies, but the person giving the talk at the conference is more likely to be the CIO,” Doman says. “The CMO is still arranging these opportunities, but it is going to be the CIO speaking for the future of the company.”

The marketing CIO

In some organizations, a hybrid CIO/CMO model has already taken hold, whether by design or by necessity. Pipeline equipment supplier Allied Valve relies on collaboration between CIO Jodie Schwirtz and national sales manager John Arthurs to fulfill its CMO functions. The company’s core business, supplying heavy industrial parts to refineries, drillers, and power plants, was once a very cozy, regional, and relationship-driven affair—exactly the sort of tasks that can be left to a competent sales team. But the explosion of activity in North Dakota’s Bakken oil fields created a highly competitive marketplace and forced Allied Valve to take a more systematic approach to marketing. “There’s a boom in North Dakota and everybody in this business is there. If we wait for word to get around about us, other players will have the business,” Schwirtz says. “We moved into more specialized marketing initiatives, and they are all data-driven. Data-driven means me.”

Sales wanted to know the best ways to position the company as a reliable, comprehensive one-stop supplier to the fast-growing oil and gas industry in the Bakken. As keeper of the company’s ten years of CRM data, Schwirtz was ideally positioned to answer the call. “My role has become the data miner. And because I’m so familiar with our business and our data, I was able to construct scenarios and produce customer lists.”

Because of the CIO/sales partnership, Allied Valve is modernizing the marketing in a decidedly old-world industry without bringing on a dedicated CMO. Schwirtz sees the expansion of her responsibilities as a natural progression. “I’m a geek at heart, I like anything where I can look at the data and see patterns and trends,” Schwirtz says. “And I want to help us get the best result we can. I don’t want to just send a message to 9,000 customers in the file—I want to try to figure out who might open it.”

That’s the kind of collaborative spirit which will define the new CIO as an indispensable marketing ally. “Yes, the CIO has technological responsibilities, just as the CIO has financial responsibilities,” Doman says. “But you need a product, customer, and market skillset as much as a technical skillset.”

Post by Jason Compton

Jason Compton is a writer with over 15 years of experience covering marketing, sales, and service. Based in Madison, WI, he is a regular contributor to Direct Marketing News, previously served as executive editor of CRM Magazine, and has been published in over 50 outlets.