by Paul Rubens

Are CIOs Destined to Work for the CMO?

Oct 07, 20135 mins
CIOInnovationIT Leadership

As marketing departments become more reliant on technology, a strong relationship with the CMO will be necessary for the survival of CIOs. In fact, don't be surprised to see CIOs playing a supporting role in the enterprise.

Within the next few years many CIOs will find that effectively they work for their chief marketing officer (CMO), and their IT department will have become little more than the technology arm of the marketing department.

CIO-CMO relationship

That’s the view of Larry Weber, chairman and CEO of the W2 Group (a marketing services company), founder of The Weber Group public relations company, and a noted speaker and author.

“There will still be all the traditional boring stuff of IT, so the CIO will still have a job,” says Weber. “But ultimately I don’t see the CIO long term being as important as the CMO — or whatever the CMO is called in the future,” he adds.

Weber says that one of the CIO’s key jobs will be to help the CMO select the best marketing automation platforms and software and integrate them with other corporate systems.

‘Cultural Shift’ in Tech

CIOs will find this type of co-operation different from the independent way that they have operated in the past, he says.

“This is quite a cultural shift, because traditionally the IT department is physically far from the marketing department, the IT staff dress differently to marketing staff, and there is no communication between technology people and marketing people. But that is how the CIO is going to have to evolve. ”

“There is bound to be inherent conflict, and that’s where the CEO comes in,. But I think that, in most cases, he will side with the marketing people.”

— Larry Weber, chairman and CEO of the W2 Group

What’s driving the change is that instead of traditional advertising, it’s social media, big data and analytics that will be the key tools that marketers use to reach customers and give them the best experience possible.

“So now the marketing department is reliant on technology, and the CMO has to say ‘help me out here. We need to get together to get the right software. I don’t want to learn technology, I just need it to work,'” Weber says.

CIOs Need to Get Marketing Savvy

It’s not only the CIO who will have to learn to adapt, Weber says: The CMO will also have to change to prepare for his brave new world of technology driven marketing. “What we will need is more tech savvy CMOs and more marketing savvy CIOs.”

That means that within five years the two roles will have blurred and become less distinct and there will be new roles with new titles as well: “Communities Manager,” “VP of Content,” “VP of Social Media” and “VP of Customer Experience” are a few that Weber suggests.

But despite Weber’s prediction that the CIO’s role will be reduced to that of technology advisor to the marketing department, there will still be plenty of what he referred to earlier as “the traditional boring stuff.” And that includes many IT considerations that have vital consequences for the business, such as security and compliance.

CIO-CMO Conflict Inevitable

That means that there will almost inevitably be conflict between the CIO and the CMO. For example, what will happen when the CMO decides that the business needs to use a particular software as a service (SaaS) product, but the CIO tries to veto it for data security or compliance reasons that could have very significant implications for the business if ignored.

“There is bound to be inherent conflict, and that’s where the CEO comes in,” says Weber. “But I think that, in most cases, he will side with the marketing people.”

A policy of overruling the CIO’s security or compliance concerns could get an organization in to serious legal difficulties and the customer experience is hardly likely to be enhanced if their personal data is not adequately protected.

For that reason it’s unlikely that CMOs will be encouraged to ignore their CIOs altogether, but Kathleen Schaub, a vice president at IDC’s CMO Advisory Service, agrees with Weber that in most organizations the CMO will have more of the CEO’s ear than the CIO.

“The CEO has to recognize the CIO/CMO relationship, and give the CMO a stronger voice in company strategy,” Schaub says.

Battling Over Technology Budget

Another potential area of conflict is the question of IT budgets, specifically which department is expected to pay for the IT-related activities of the marketing department. Some — like marketing-related SaaS products — may naturally fall into the category of marketing expenditure, but what about the storage and processing power needed to carry out Big Data analytics? Is that an IT or a marketing activity, and out of which department’s budget should it come?

IDC figures show that about two thirds of technology spending for marketing is already being paid for out of marketing rather than IT budgets, and the amount being spent each year is growing strongly.

“Spending on marketing automation has increased steadily since the 1990s, and it’s now reached fever pitch,” says Schaub. That would suggest that – regardless of whether budgets for overall IT spending grow – the CMO will have control over more of the pie than the CIO in the future.


Despite all of the above, Schaub says that conflict in the relationship between CMO and CIO can be avoided in a number of ways. “One approach is to try and ensure there is a good strong relationship between the CIO and the CMO. But that’s not always possible because it comes down to having the right personalities,” she says.

But there is another way – and one which Schaub says has already been tried successfully by corporations like Motorola Solutions. “The answer may simply be to make the CIO and the CMO the same person,” she says.

Larry Weber is scheduled to speak about the CIO-CMO relationship at FutureM in Boston later this month.

Paul Rubens is a technology journalist based in England. ollow everything from on Twitter @CIOonline, Facebook, Google + and LinkedIn.