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The rise of the CMO

Is war about to erupt between the CIO and CMO? Mark Samuels thinks so...

Mark Samuels

The Doctor's Surgery: Dr Mark Samuels, editor at advisory organisation CIO Connect, examines the future role of the IT leader in his monthly column.

It must feel like Christmas for vendors. Many IT companies have consistently struggled to engage with CIOs, so the rise of the digital business and the apparent fall of the traditional IT leader must seem like a reason to crack open the advocaat.

Evidence of change comes from analyst firm Gartner, who believes CMOs will spend more on technology than CIOs by 2017. The analyst says marketing executives are already purchasing technology from their own capital budgets, often without the say-so of the CIO.

Such relationships are likely to become more widespread. Consumer and cloud technologies mean all users have a much better idea of what they want and how to purchase technology on-demand, with or without any involvement from the tech bods. 

Any CIO will confirm instances where lines-of-department have gone off and bought their own kit. Employees have always liked to do their own thing. But the rise of digital technology has made individualism easier and much more fashionable.

Yet it is the marketing department, rather than individual purchasing decisions, that provides the real threat to the CIO. The CMO, unlike the CIO, almost always resides on the board. And, much as it might pain the rest of the c-suite, people do listen to marketing folk.

When CIOs talk of a new technology initiative, other executives recoil in fear at the thought of problem projects from the past. While executives also might roll their eyes at yet-another piece of blue sky thinking' from the marketing team, they are actually vividly aware that the power for decision making in the digital age increasingly resides with people who push the envelope' for a living.

The rise of digital technology should have made life easier for the IT leader to collar an increased amount of power and budget. That the rest of the business is actually looking to the CMO for digital decision-making is a serious blow. But it doesn't have to be a knockout punch for the CIO.

There are risks associated in allowing CMOs to engage with vendors in isolation. Give an executive a bigger budget and they are likely to buy a lot more kit. Get those purchases wrong and the business will end up with the kind of problems it has spent the last five years trying to unravel: in short, too many systems and not enough services.

Someone, somewhere has to take executive responsibility for ensuring digital services are integrated. Only executives with experience of good governance and strategy around IT implementation can ensure the rest of the business buys the right technology at the right time.

The CIO role is evolving and the traditional technology director position might not exist in 10, or even five, years' time. But skilled professionals, who use their IT experience to help the business make digital purchasing decisions, will always be a crucial component of the leadership team. 

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