How to Make Technology a Win-Win for the CMO and CIO

Technology used to be the exclusive realm of the CIO; now, it underpins the work of every facet of every organisation. CMOs want to use digital technology to power their campaigns and sales drives; HR wants to automate payroll and resource management; and so on. IT decision-making is now everyone’s responsibility – but rather than facing extinction, the CIO still plays a crucial role in making sure these decisions are sound.

CIOs need to play to their strengths – and in doing so, help their C-suite counterparts play to theirs. The CIO has deep technical expertise coupled with a holistic view of technology within the organisation; they’re used to ensuring that a new technology won’t wreak havoc across other parts of the system before they invest in it. This puts them in a unique position to both support other line-of-business initiatives, and also ensure compliance and internal control (so that one division’s rapid adoption doesn’t endanger another’s outcomes).

However, this doesn’t mean the CIO should be the policeman of IT; rather they should be partnering with their executive colleagues and seeking to understand their goals better. These goals are often more directly aligned with business growth and efficiency than IT’s, which have traditionally been more of the “keep the lights running” type. If you’re a CMO, the objective of your marketing and social media campaign directly impacts the business’ bottom line – but you also need technical leadership so that your campaign runs smoothly and without downtime.

CIOs can not only provide this technical leadership, but also advise CMOs and other executives on ways to improve the efficiency and yield of their operations. A CMO may not be aware of marketing automation platforms that could free up their teams to focus on creative elements, for example; the CIO not only knows how these platforms work, but can get them deployed and tailored directly to the CMO’s specific requirements. In this game of technology, both sides need to win – or the whole business loses.

C-Suite Symbiosis

Today’s CIO needs to cultivate a new range of skills and values, both in how they make decisions and how they lead their teams. I believe there are three key areas which they’ll need to focus on in order to deliver the best outcomes for their colleagues and overarching business:

Collaborate, don’t hide.

Clear communication – of business objectives, technical hurdles, and fresh ideas – is essential to making technology work for all parts of the business. The CIO’s office sits at the intersection of a range of competing demands for technology, so it’s their responsibility to broker agreement and also bring innovation to the fore. CIOs must wean their teams (and themselves) off relying on their technical knowledge to prove points – particularly the use of complex jargon which will frustrate and confuse CMOs and other executives. Instead, focus on enabling underlying business goals and balancing concurrent objectives, applying that technical knowledge to devise solutions that can serve multiple cross-divisional functions at once.

Seek broad knowledge.

Constant learning is essential for CIOs to stay up-to-date with the latest innovations and best-practices that other executives will eventually demand. This knowledge will help them dampen technology hype before it dearly costs the business; and also point the C-suite towards other alternatives that may meet their underlying objectives. CIOs must also build new core competencies within their teams that will support more fundamental changes in IT demand and delivery for businesses. Developing applications-related skills (including accessibility and testing) makes sense when the whole organisation is embracing “as-a-service” models of IT.

Ask questions.

Requirements-gathering is a fundamental, but often-overlooked, part of IT – most technologists prefer to focus on the amazing functions and features of a solution than whether it actually does what the end-user wants. This needs to change. CIOs must make sure they and their teams understand basic issues early on in the technology consulting or adoption process, in terms that are universally understood (like costs, labour hours, or delivery speed). Then they can collaborate with each internal “client” to plot out solutions, based on their broad technical knowledge, which deliver on these issues rather than being fixated on one technology or another.

In the face of competing demands from the C-suite, CIOs need to remember that technology isn’t a zero-sum game. The best solutions are the ones that bring the whole organisation together in common and tangible purpose, so that everyone wins.

Joel Dolisy, CTO/CIO, SolarWinds