Avoiding a digital Frankenstein

A lesson for CIOs and CMOs.

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Credit: iStock

Here’s a real-world story of what happened when a company decided it wanted to create a mobile-friendly website to improve customer engagement. As a CIO, you’ve undoubtedly seen similar instances or even had a similar experience in your organization. There’s an important lesson in this story that will help CIOs tussling for influence within the C-suite.

The story starts as a classic build-vs-buy situation. A proactive and creative marketing department engaged a third-party firm to build and host the mobile-friendly website. As they hoped, the third-party firm successfully completed the project faster than the client could have achieved with its in-house resources. The solution was well designed and proved very successful in driving mobile customer engagements.

However, shortly thereafter, the marketing manager left the company. The company no longer managed the relationship with the third-party provider effectively. As a result, the mobile site was neglected and became a detriment to the company rather than an asset. 

What was initially a mobile site with a great design became a “Frankenstein project.”

The mobile site then became an emergency rescue project. The IT department was tasked with reverse engineering the systems and processes that were needed to integrate the site and support it as a sustainable part of the company’s technology ecosystem.

Eric Gordon, a CIO veteran with 28 years of experience in manufacturing, sourcing, retail and wholesale industries, including stints at Michaels’ stores and collective brands, related the above story to me. He highlights it not only as an account of how initial designs must include a process for sustainability but, more importantly, as an example of the new partnering relationship CIOs and CMOs need to develop.

Marketing often sets the agenda and controls the purse strings of major technology initiatives these days. Their objective is to come up with creative ideas that can enhance brand awareness, manage messaging and engage customers in a highly competitive, multi-channel world. But as Gordon points out, “How a business executes, manages and sustains those projects beyond launch is the purview of IT.” The IT group is responsible for engineering sustainable processes and providing ongoing care to tech solutions.

Gordon says it’s “a bit like a Frankenstein story. Once you create the beast, it must be cared for, nurtured and maintained lest it become a huge burden and a danger to the company.”

Clearly, both CIOs and CMOs need to bring their strengths to the table and cooperate on technology initiatives. But like the above story about the mobile website project, most organizations are still adjusting to this new way of thinking.

How CIOs and CMOs need to change for cooperative partnering 

Both marketing and IT need to recognize and leverage each other’s strengths. For instance, CIOs must appreciate and defer to marketing’s creative expertise and its insights into the voice of the customers and trends in the marketplace. CIOs must relinquish some control and cooperate with marketing’s need for speed.

On the other hand, CMOs need to appreciate and defer to IT’s expertise around infrastructure decisions such as integration with the organization’s technical ecosystem, resource allocation, funding, ongoing help desk and maintenance services. CMOs must recognize that collaboration with IT is critical for robust delivery and sustainable execution of any technology-based project. 

This includes SaaS or cloud solutions that are hosted by third parties. Gordon points out that this expansion of the CIO realm of influence demands more strategic-level thinking around how to best “orchestrate a diverse neural network of mission-critical technology that drives the organization.”

So a symbiotic partnership between marketing and IT is required to successfully deliver new tech solutions – especially disruptive technologies.

As I mentioned in my prior blog about digital spend, change is always happening in the business world; but instead of a threat, it can be the catalyst for rethinking solutions and creating significant new forms of value. In the same way, digital tech projects are a catalyst for the disruptive shift in influence in the C-suite. CMOs increasingly drive the IT agenda and have budgets for business-critical projects involving mobility, big data and the Internet of Things. But the reality is CIO influence is not going away. If that were to happen, businesses would be flooded with unsustainable and costly Frankenstein projects. 

The change at hand is not a tussle for influence in the C-suite; it’s the groundbreaking of a new mindset and symbiotic partnering between CIOs and CMOs to leverage technology more successfully. In this new relationship, both the CIO and CMO roles will maintain relevance in providing value to the enterprise.

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