by Tom Kaneshige

CIOs and CMOs Suffer From Failure to Communicate

Jul 31, 2014 4 mins
CIO CMO IT Leadership

The CIO-CMO relationship is taking center stage in the age of the digital customer. It's more important than ever that these two executives join forces. So why canu2019t they communicate?

Two people trying to communicate using tin can phone
Credit: Thinkstock

At the heart of any good relationship is communication, yet a new study shows that CIOs and CMOs are terrible at it. They’re not speaking the same language, bicker about the tech budget and argue over who should take ownership of mobile apps.

These and other insights come courtesy of The CIO-CMO Omnichannel, a study by, EPAM Systems and The CMO Club. The group surveyed more than 400 CIOs and CMOs and conducted one-on-one interviews to better understand how the CIO and CMO work together.

The Digital Customer Comes First

The study’s findings are timely, as the traditionally rocky CIO-CMO relationship takes center stage in the age of the digital customer. It’s more important than ever that these two executives join forces to identify and reach the digital customer.

[Slideshow: 10 Biggest CIO-CMO Relationship Hurdles]

Effective, efficient communication depends on both parties having the same understanding about the meaning of certain key words. Sounds simple enough, but this breaks down with technology terms. The CIO-CMO Omnichannel study provides a sampling of words, along with the difference between what the CIO hears and the CMO hears:

Digital Product: For CIOs, this means custom software purpose-built and managed by the CIO’s group as a core business capability and deployed to the enterprise. For CMOs, this means boxed software or a purchased (SaaS or PaaS) solution used to accomplish an acute or ongoing business need.

Platform: For CIOs, this means a set of preconfigured software tools that can or must be used to quickly build a digital product, and generally preferable that the platform include the ability to interface with enterprise systems via API/SDK. For CMOs, this means a complete system for supporting a particular need, which may or may not interface with enterprise.

Agile: For CIOs, this means a software development methodology that is highly flexible but also requires deliberately ambiguous definitions of timelines and deliverables. For CMOs, this means a desired state of operations, in which the company can change direction and move rapidly as market conditions change.

Omnichannel: For CIOs, this means systems that are fully integrated, with real-time data flow to and from all end-points, regardless of the location or business. For CMOs, this means a customer experience that is consistent and appropriate across every touchpoint in every location.

Battling for Dollars

The battle over the tech budget has also harmed the CIO-CMO relationship. There’s no question more of a CMO’s budget is being allocated for tech in areas such as cloud-based digital marketing software, customer analytics and social media. Communication troubles crop up because 68 percent of CMOs believe a boost in their tech spend will come at the expense of the CIO’s budget, meaning budget power is shifting away from the CIO to the CMO.

In truth, this isn’t a zero-sum game. More than 40 percent of CIOs think their budget will remain relatively stable. Many CMOs also know they need to involve the CIO as a kind of internal tech consultant when evaluating and making tech purchases.

“On the surface, it seems that funding is a point of conflict,” says The CIO-CMO Omnichannel study. “In reality though, the entire organization is seeing an increase in technology budget.”

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When the debate turns to ownership of critical mobile apps, another striking miscommunication arises. Given the importance of mobile apps among digital customers, CIO and CMO want to own this space — and both think they already do. In the study, 86 percent of CIOs feel they own mobile apps while 76 percent of CMOs think they own them.

The fight over ownership can become a flashpoint or a rallying cry in the CIO-CMO relationship.

“It would be easy to see such a strong overlap in reported ownership as a conflict,” says The CIO-CMO Omnichannel study. “Instead, it can be viewed as an appreciation for the mounting importance of mobile within an organization.”