Digital Agenda: Back with the CIO?

Is marketing losing its grip over digital journey of corporations?

Marketers have managed to seize the digital transformation agenda in organizations, almost on the sole promise of moving it faster. Corporate IT, traditionally geared up to manage cost and compliance, can never hope to be anywhere close to them in terms of speed of implementation.  

But at the core of digital transformation is technology. The clever marketers realized that without a solid grip on technology, their wish of controlling the digital journey would never get fulfilled. That led to invention of what is now called marketing technology or martech. Martech is a hot phrase today. Come to think of it; there’s no ops-tech; no HR-tech; no sales-tech; no engineering-tech; only martech. It is not that specialized technologies do not exist for all these other organizational functions; just that they do not have a cool phrase associated with them.

There’s martech; there are marketing technologists; there are chief marketing technologists too. While the agencies were more than happy to see their clients get a stronger role in organizations, with entire new budget heads of digital transformation—and helped them by doing all they could do to hype it up—the traditional IT research firms sensed a new customer segment. They responded by creating even more hype.

To be fair to them, something new was surely happening. First and foremost, social media was emerging as a serious marketing channel and that required some technology. Two, with BYOD and newer devices, the grip of corporate IT on the enterprise tech was loosening a bit and finally, some innovative entrepreneurs did use the cloud model to deliver much better marketing technology solutions  that what was available from traditional IT vendors and found it convenient to address these new buyers of technology. The hype just got them more VC money and attracted more; creating an ecosystem of its own.

All these secured the grip of marketing over the digital journey of companies.

Gartner’s prediction in 2012 that CMOs would spend more on IT than CIOs by 2017 was the final shot in the arm for the marketing department, which made corporate IT almost surrender.   

A Sapient-Nitro whitepaper, Analyzing the Chief Marketing Technologist, released last year, observed that most marketing technologists had marketing job titles, and a majority reported to a CMO.  A Forrester report last year said even in India, about 40% of marketing leaders were gravitating towards establishing a technology department within marketing. 

The digital transformation battle had been won most decisively by the marketing department.


The Lessons of Maturity

As the CEOs and boards understood digital transformation better, they realized that it is not about eye-catching hashtags and search engine optimization. It required them to do business differently.

This realization led to the current craze of appointing chief digital officers. The larger organizations realized that more than anything else, the CDO needs to have the ability to think strategically and transform the entire organization. McKinsey even calls them transformer in chief. Many call them a CEO with one specific agenda.  “The ability to lead transformation across an organization” is the true indicator of likely success in a CDO’s role, infers McKinsey.

In other words, digital transformation is just the latest version of organizational transformation—around digital. Since it requires transformation across the entire organizations, most good companies have appointed people with strategic thinking ability and diverse experience, often in the core areas of the business.

That has changed the entire story.

For one, it has taken the agenda from the hands of CMOs, entrusting it with CDOs. Two, these CDOs, often business people with a good understanding of customer, have less reason to be dependent on marketing and more reason to work with those who know technology and hence complement them in skills and competence.

In short, the CDO wave has been a great leveler for the CIOs.

The change is already visible, if one goes by Harvey Nash CIO Survey 2015, brought out in association with KPMG.

“Last year, we found that many Chief Marketing Officers (CMOs) were owning and leading the digital agenda. This is changing. Today we are seeing some evidence of a ‘boomerang’ effect, where IT

organizations are either collaborating with the CMOs or taking on the responsibility for themselves,”  notes the study.



The study finds that the ownership of digital agenda by marketing has dropped sharply between last year and this year. While digital agenda was driven by marketing in 40% organizations last year, that is down to 24% this year. In contrast, 18% of CIOs now drive digital agenda, up from just 10% last year. In 12% of the organizations, digital is a separate function while most organizations—as much as 47%--are realizing the value of shared responsibility between IT and marketing.

The study also finds that in 17% organizations, the CIOs work with CDOs to drive the digital agenda, up from just 7% in 2014.

Summary: the CIO is firmly back in the centre stage of the digital agenda. Now, it is time to deliver. 



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