by Todd Thibodeaux

How the CMO, CIO and CDO can join forces to drive digital innovation

Oct 17, 2016
C-SuiteCIOIT Leadership

Without a shared vision and active collaboration between executives, your business’s talent, resources and goals remain fragmented – and ultimately, innovation efforts will suffer.

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Chief information officers and other business technology leaders are frequently reminded to break down silos around IT, integrating the department into the firm by partnering with managers and listening more directly to end user feedback. Even so, many firms continue to tolerate siloed decision-making in the C-suite, with effects that closely parallel the challenges commonly seen with isolated IT departments.

Increasingly, IT leaders must adjust to a new normal. According to this Building Digital Organizations report by my organization, CompTIA, only 19 percent of companies say IT owns the entire technology budget. As other business functions take command of the technology they want in their work routines, CIOs and other chief executives must work together to chart a course for their organization’s digital future.

Without a shared vision and active collaboration between executives, your business’s talent, resources and goals remain fragmented — and ultimately, innovation efforts will suffer. Rather than managing your business function’s digital resources in solitude or attempting to impose your will on the organization, all executives must form a united front to accelerate their technological evolution.

Building a shared vision

Business departments are largely reflections of their leaders, and this is doubly true with regard to technology decisions. Even minor discord between two business heads could lead their respective departments to invest in disparate technologies, introducing obstacles to compatibility and efficiency, and at worst obstructing collaboration between teams.

Even comparatively small decisions, like deciding what brand of productivity software to use, can introduce major hurdles if decided in a vacuum. As organizations move more applications to the cloud and the security landscape becomes more diverse, individual departments can no longer act alone.

Avoiding these problematic divides starts at the top. The explosion of cloud and mobile solutions created a natural overlap between organizations’ business and technology objectives, but the onus falls on executives to develop a joint plan for achieving these goals.

This dynamic shouldn’t be too difficult to facilitate: already more than half of business professionals say that meeting corporate objectives with technology should be a shared priority between their departments and IT. Still, CIOs must be mindful not to micromanage their organizations’ digital environments or force the company to conform to their vision. CIOs must work with CMOs, CDOs and other leaders to develop and fulfill a technology strategy that serves both customers and the business.

Fostering better communication

Unified digital decision-making doesn’t happen overnight. Most C-suites must develop a new process to discuss technology-based challenges and opportunities.

It’s not enough for executives to simply maintain contact through the occasional email or one-to-one meeting; a serious approach to inter-departmental communication requires regular C-suite meetings on the topic of digital needs, wants and capabilities. Digital innovation can’t occur when the tools and processes that make it possible are no more than an afterthought.

Executives need to treat these meetings as opportunities for knowledge sharing and problem solving, not just a time to report on changes in their respective departments. Challenges faced by one business unit are regularly shared across the organization. While the marketing department may be facing its first major difficulty supporting remote workers, the IT department may have already invested in a solution that can be expanded and customized to meet the rest of the organization’s needs.

Fusing data, marketing and IT

It’s important for the entire C-suite to collaborate with regard to digital innovation, but an even closer dynamic must be forged between the CIO, CDO and CMO. Across industries, IT, data and marketing are becoming interdependent functions — and their shared success depends on the quality of their leaders’ communication.

The natural synergy between marketing, data and IT presents a multitude of opportunities. For CMOs still trying to push their teams to be more data-driven, the CIO and CDO can provide invaluable support in terms of identifying the right infrastructure, software and skill sets required to transform. Joining forces ensures that each team grows together, and that integrating tools and workflow isn’t an afterthought.

Even in forward-thinking marketing departments that already use and collect vast amounts of customer information, there’s tremendous value in CIO, CMO and CDO teamwork. As business intelligence tools quickly give way to more advanced concepts like machine learning and predictive analytics, CIO and CDO input can go a long way to helping their marketing departments stay competitive.

Pushing the digital revolution

Many organizations have already taken the first steps to unifying IT with the other business units. Now is the time to take the next step and break down barriers to C-suite collaboration, particularly between CMOs, CIOs and CDOs, to enable greater transformation.

Driving digital innovation can come with its share of turbulence. But when the C-suite commits to working toward a shared vision for the future, it’s easier for the rest of the organization to rise to the challenge.