Bob Violino
Contributing writer

Unlikely partners: How CIOs and CMOs can collaborate

Jan 17, 2022
Business IT AlignmentCIOCMO

In today’s digital-focused, customer-centric business world, CIOs and CMOs are putting aside tech budget tussles to work side by side in driving business value.

man and woman shaking hands making deal teamwork
Credit: Thinkstock

It’s a C-suite pairing some might not think of as being necessarily strategic: the CIO and CMO. IT leaders are often linked to finance, operations, and other senior executives. But with marketing technology carving out its own important role in the enterprise, this particular corporate relationship can have significant benefits for organizations.

In an October 2021 report, Forrester Research notes that there are new opportunities emerging for CMOs and CIOs to align their teams to accelerate digital transformation. This is especially true with regard to “hybrid commerce” — combining the use of retail space, an ecommerce site or app, and delivery or shipping services — as consumer behavior continues to evolve.

Despite strong e-commerce growth in the years to come, physical stores will continue to capture most retail sales, Forrester says, and hybrid commerce is what IT executives and CMOs need to focus on to ignite their collaboration.

The firm estimates that more than 20% of marketing budgets is used for technology, and one third of marketing organizations already have a dedicated technology team.

“I think this partnership is required for achieving customer success,” says Elizabeth Tluchowski, chief information and security officer at insurer World Insurance Associates, who has been collaborating with CMO Jean Wiskowski for about a year as the firm has expanded significantly in agency acquisitions and market share.

“This may not have always been the case, but it certainly is now, especially in a customer-focused business,” Tluchowski says. “The innovation necessary to provide the customer with a seamless experience can only come from marketing and IT working together.”

Not only does it make sense for CIOs and CMOs to collaborate, it’s essential, says Kathy Kay, senior vice president and CIO at financial services provider Principal Financial Group.

“In today’s company, marketing owns the brand,” Kay says. “Since the brand defines what customers expect when they interact with the company, our brand needs to show up in our customer experience. Many of those customer experiences are shaped by digital solutions and thoughtful uses of data. Working together, the CIO and CMO can help ensure the customer experience delivers on the brand promise.”

Here are some of the ways these two executives can work together to help their organizations thrive in digital business.

Platform migration

CIOs can work with CMOs on technology migration efforts that benefit both of their operations. OvareGroup, a provider of advertising, branding, design, and other services, discovered this with a move to Microsoft’s Office 365 cloud offering. As the firm continued to grow through acquisitions, it saw a business need to get all lines of business on the same technology platform.

Suzie Smibert, CIO and EVP, OvareGroup

Suzie Smibert, CIO and EVP, OvareGroup


The technology team, led by CIO and Executive Vice President Suzie Smibert, worked with the marketing team, headed by CMO Kate Gray worked together to guide the company through what turned out to be a massive technical change.

“We consolidated and streamlined IT services across four disparate platforms being used by nine different companies and 250 employees, ultimately migrating the entire organization to Office 365,” Smibert says. “Because of the migration, all employees now share a common platform for file storage, calendars, email, and chats. This has sped up collaboration and improved efficiency by facilitating faster sharing of files, ideas, and insights.”

Smibert collaborated with Gray on training materials and company communications, to ensure a flawless transition. “The technology team provided content and context, so that the marketing folks could brand and communicate information through training materials, intranet posts, [Microsoft] Teams messages, email communication, and virtual training sessions,” Smibert says. “We both believed that it was important to communicate the ‘why’ of the changes to ensure alignment across the organizations.”

Materials included 10 different user guides, virtual training modules that were recorded and stored as part of a video library on the intranet, and a hidden page on the company website that could be used in case of power outage. “The new materials and videos are now being used to onboard new employees, ensuring consistency across all business units,” Smibert says.

Intranet revamp

At OvareGroup, IT and marketing are also teaming up to revitalize the company’s internal internet service.

Together, the joint technology and marketing team is in the process of revamping the company intranet to make it a more useful destination for all employees. The first step was to gather assets and training materials in one place. Next, there will be testing and ultimately training to ensure that all team members understand and use the new asset.

Intranet assets include training materials, company information/stats, a human resources portal, an IT portal, a company directory with biographies of executives, announcements of big sales wins, culture/activities, and information about the employee stock ownership plan.

In 2022, the joint team plans to add user-generated content and feedback icons to drive and measure employee engagement, Smibert says.

Improving customer experience

Establishing a better customer experience has been a top goal of organizations for the past several years, and it’s an area where CIOs and CMOs can work together effectively.

At Principal Financial Group, the customer experience professionals on the marketing team map the customer journey, identifying points of friction, steps that are cumbersome, and processes that are inconsistent, Kay says.

Kathy Kay, senior vice president and CIO, Principal Financial Group

Kathy Kay, senior vice president and CIO, Principal Financial Group

Principal Financial Group

“Technology can help deliver improved digital experiences. Our customers expect us to know who they are and what products they have with us. Data and analytics are the key to delivering on those customer expectations,” she says.

As technology becomes a bigger and bigger piece of the marketing mix, “the CIO has to understand the needs and priorities set by the CMO,” Kay says. “From gathering and analyzing information captured during customer interactions to monitoring social media, technology can help marketing be more effective and efficient.”

It’s important for the CIO and CMO to invest time in getting aligned in critical areas such as customer experience, Kay says. “As the CIO, I need to understand our [customer experience] strategy to ensure we’re making appropriate technology investments — and drive adoption of those solutions across the company.”

Kay is working with Principal’s CMO Beth Wood to ensure a common, consistent care experience for customers engaging with the firm’s contact centers. “We’re jointly responsible for improving contact center experiences for customers, recently implementing a tiered, automated authentication process that helps us ensure we’re protecting customer data and assets, while making the process more seamless for our customers and our employees,” Kay says.

Beth Wood, CMO, Principal Financial Group

Beth Wood, CMO, Principal Financial Group

Principal Financial Group

For example, through journey mapping, Wood’s customer experience team identified points of friction​ in the customer care experience, such as customers being asked to answer ​authentication questions they didn’t know the answers to. Customers felt that the types or number of questions was excessive​, considering the nature of the request they had.

“Given this feedback, our technology team identified digital solutions to make it easier to authenticate the customer by comparing data about the phone being used to information housed in our customer database,” Kay says. “Working together, marketing and technology were able to deliver a customer experience that better reflects Principal’s brand, saves customers time, and frees contact center agents to spend more time with customers who need personal assistance.”

Enhancing web presence

At World Insurance, Tluchowski and Wiskowski and their teams worked closely to create a new website for the firm as part of an overall rebranding effort.

One of the keys to a successful project were meetings between the developers and Tluchowski regarding integration with World Insurance’s primary client management system.

Elizabeth Tluchowski, chief information and security officer, World Insurance Associates

Elizabeth Tluchowski, chief information and security officer, World Insurance Associates

World Insurance Associates

“Together, we worked on best practices in terms of data that should flow between the systems, from the perspective of the web site’s lead-generation ability to our client management system and how notifications would be generated once the lead was imported,” Tluchowski says.

IT and marketing spent a lot of time collaborating to identify the best strategy to address the needs of web content producers, as they relate to generating sales from leads. In addition, the teams worked together to ensure that the site’s design was in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act Standards for Accessible Design.

Jean Wiskowski, CMO, World Insurance Associates

Jean Wiskowski, CMO, World Insurance Associates

World Insurance Associates

Tluchowski and Wiskowski also work together on several website data integration processes with various marketing technology vendors. “Each vendor serves a different purpose regarding data requests,” Tluchowski says. “So, we work very closely to ensure the data pulled is accurate, within our compliance scope, and accomplishes the intended results of the product and information.”

The CIO and CMO roles at World Insurance “are powerful together,” Tluchowski says. “But neither one can be successful without the support of the other when it comes to digital [initiatives] within the organization.”