Who controls the marketing tech stack in 2017: The CIO or CMO?

A funny thing happened along the way to using technology to better connect with the marketplace: The CIO and CMO both decided to have a hand in it. How will they agree and align in 2017 as digital becomes central to the end-to-end customer experience?

Much has been made in the last several years for the need of the CIO and CMO to align on technology plans, as marketing strategy increasingly must be realized largely or entirely within digital experiences.

While the CIO has long owned the overall technology stack inside of the enterprise, the CMO has certainly had a say in it in most organizations since the rise of digital marketing in the 1990s.

Now, however, the situation with the CIO today has shifted in several significant ways that is changing both the balance of power in the C-suite as well as who owns what when it comes to today's vast array of market-facing technologies and channels.

The CIO's grasp slipping as technology rapidly proliferates

Perhaps the most significant trend is that CIOs are facing ever-tougher competition today for their internal customers. In an earlier era, one simply had to go through the IT department to get the technology one needed that would actually work with the existing infrastructure, technology standards, and enterprise architecture.

No longer. The cloud and especially software-as-a-service (SaaS), has changed this equation forever. Every IT department is now faced with the most formidable possible day-to-day competitor: The combined services inventory of the entire SaaS industry, along with all the available mobile and enterprise app stores.

These new sources of marketing IT collectively represent to the CMO -- as marketing technology tracker Scott Brinker has noted in his terrific industry analysis -- a genuine explosion of new options, going from a mere 150 business-ready marketing apps in 2011 to over an astonishing 3,500 in 2016. This vastly altered and crowded landscape is creating all sorts of pressures on both the CIO and CMO in terms of expectations and execution.

CIO and CMO Technology Alignment and Collaboration for the Digital Marketing Experience and Customer Journey

An example: Today, the staff under a CMO can quickly order up and provision virtually any needed cloud-based marketing tool in as little as minutes, which previously used to take months of procurement, installation, testing, and implementation in the on-premises era. Need an e-mail blast? Sign-up for a service. Need a product microsite? There are hundreds of good, nearly free options. Want to create a customer community? Truly great options abound.

While mobile marketing experiences are still a challenge, that's getting easier too as the software industry increasingly understands today's complex omnichannel digital operating environments, and provides what's needed (although getting all these marketing technology pieces to work together remains the biggest challenge.)

This brings us to the second major factor changing the marketing technology power structure in the enterprise: Technology is informing just about every aspect of the entire end-to-end customer journey, affecting large areas of the organization.

Put simply, the CIO can't make each area of a business a top priority, so inevitably some part of the business has to wait. And that part of the business will be sorely tempted to self-help by using the galaxy of available solutions from outside the organization. This is a big reason so-called Shadow IT has become so prevalent (now about 35% of all technology in organizations.)

So the typical CIO today has to compete with genuine zeal for internal IT marketshare for the first time, while also feeling the strongest demand in the history for digitizing virtually everything in the business. This often makes the marketing group play second fiddle as the function is frequently perceived as non-mission critical. However, the CMO wants to mover ever faster, not slower.

CIOs and CMOs have largely collaborated, but challenges grow

Over the last few years, I've talked with many CMO and CIO teams in organizations about the issue of marketing technology ownership. The overall pattern that has emerged is that the marketing team tends to lead the marketing technology exploration and evaluation process while the CIO's team watches over their shoulder to ensure that technical concerns are understood, agreed upon, and dealt with. In general, the CIO and CMO try to agree on major marketing technology decisions.

Sidenote: Another related pattern is that marketing teams I've been tracking for a few years now have been establishing their own in-house IT capabilities, which they control. However, this trend remains relegated mostly to the very largest enterprises.

Now, however, as marketing has become such a large consumer of technology, this pattern of CIO/CMO collaboration is becoming strained. There simply too much market-facing technology to absorb in order to remain competitive. That's because as I've noted many times in the past, customer experience leaders, which aren't common, consistently outperform the market overall by a good amount. In short, if you want to be a top tier company, you need great customer experience, and today that means an extensive and up-to-date digital experience.

That digital experience also goes deeper now into the back office of the organization than ever before, as analytics increasingly moves to the forefront to make marketing activities incredibly data-driven. Data from all customer touchpoints and related IT systems must now be brought to bear to create a compelling and highly personalized experience to draw in and satisfy the needs of customers. Delivering on digital engagement well has even become table stakes in highly competitive industries, and best-of-breed is a high bar indeed for organizations that have underinvested for years.

Yet I still get contacted by CMOs that are fighting for control of marketing technology, or at least enough of it to make headway against technology change and rising customer expectations. The IT department is still the long pole in a great many organizations.

I asked my industry colleague and friend, Steve Mann, an accomplished figure in the marketing space and former CMO of LexisNexis, about what the real issue still is with marketing technology. He indicated that mindsets about technology ownership are largely still stuck in the past:

The issue isn't CIO/CMO alignment. It's the fact that some in the C-Suite haven't broken free of legacy thinking -- that technology belongs where it had resided traditionally. Both CIOs and CMOs need to work together to educate their peers on the value of the #martech [marketing technology] model.

I then consulted Maureen Blandford, an industry CMO who I've been tracking closely as she seeks to assemble a contemporary marketing stack with all the latest features that is usable, integrated, and omnichannel (and for which she largely finds that the marketing technology industry is not really ready for prime time in this regard.)

Asking her about the ownership and control issue of marketing technology, here's what Maureen told me for this article:

In an ideal world, the CIO is the supreme tech expert; the CMO is the supreme marketplace expert, right?

Alas, in reality, the CIO is overwhelmed and under-resourced and the CMO is often over-confident about the latest trends in both tactics (which will be discredited in 8 month cycles) and technology. The MarTech landscape is bloated beyond reason, largely due to the foundational tech not performing as it should. The app landscape is really a bandaid landscape. It's a mess. As a CMO, I'm leading a team of smart people, who have niche expertise and great intentions, but none of us should be material contributors to tech decisions. Yet we often are; also a contributing factor to the bloated MarTech landscape.

My dream is for my CIO partner to BE the supreme tech leader, leading and inspiring a team focused on delivering digital transformation, including for marketing. I'd love to be able to share my goals and desired outcomes with the CIO, and have her advise on the best MarTech roadmap. Bonus points if that roadmap supports the digital convergence of product, marketing, sales, and success.

But as I noted in my analysis of why IT is often failing to lead digital transformation, most traditional enterprises are underspending their technology-savvy counterparts by a whopping 50%. There are simply not the allocated resources in most organizations to lead the kind of marketing transformation that Maureen needs to in order to make her organization a leader. In this constrained and bottlenecked delivery environment, the CMO is increasingly likely to ask for and/or use their own budgets for technology development.

Salesforce CMO Guillaume Roques is on record on this topic as well, noting recently that the CIO and CMO must essentially mentally occupy the other's role: "It's really important that the CMO also does the CIO job and vice versa due to the convergence of tech."

The likely scenarios for control of marketing tech in 2017

So where does this leave the CIO and CMO as we head into 2017? I believe a number of possibilities are likely, and which one happens in a given organization will depend on local inclinations and resources:

  • The CIO and CMO join forces around marketing technology. More closely than a partnership, they literally create a matrixed organization dedicated to digital marketing experience, jointly possessing and wielding much more resources than they could alone. The new marketing IT structure will become experts in both marketing and in marketing technology, using their combined purview to create breakthroughs in integration and customer journey. Why this would work? One big reason: Marketing budgets are both much larger next year and growing faster than IT budgets, and thus it helps solve the resource problem until IT drives more P&L income.
  • CMOs forge ahead, and make up with CIOs on a case-by-case basis. Given the aforementioned pace of the marketing technology business, I believe this is the most likely scnearios, and what I'm actually seeing is fast-growing marketing IT teams being created solely by the CMO, with knowledge by the CIO, but little involvement as long as important lines aren't crossed.
  • CIOs and CMOs align and collaborate across clearly defined responsibilities. The CIO owns the tech stack and the integration between the pieces, and the CMO owns the integrated digital experience itself. This will tend to work better in large companies, which tend to have larger IT budgets as a percentage of revenue, and the CIO's team can better keep up with the rate of marketing technology evolution. This model is easier to realize than creating the matrixed organization, but will be hampered by two orgs always operating together across a silo.

Regardless of which model is used, however, 2017 is gearing up to be a very interesting year. I expect we'll learn a lot more as an industry on how to better enable marketing groups with technology.

In meantime, vendors need to focus on making their products easier to integrate, we need some simple standards to make than possible, and we need to open discuss as an industry better ways to change our organizations faster and more systematically to adapt to today's digital operating models.

Additional Reading

What's top of mind for the CIO as 2017 looms

CIO Playbook: IT value and the digital mindset

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