Guest blog: It Takes Two to Tango

The Boardroom

by | 23 January 2013

Samson David, VP & global head of business platforms at Infosys, argues against predictions that IT decisions in the future will be made by business unit heads which will cause to the role of the CIO to eventually become redundant.

Why is it that we, the people of the digital era, are so quick to pronounce judgment? We've been predicting the death of branches at the hands of alternative banking channels for years. We said print is where words will go to die. Yet books and newspapers are still around. So are, infuriatingly, grubby currency notes.

Which is why I take the pronouncement that the Chief Marketing Officer will "take over" the CIO, with a great deal of salt. Let me back up here to give you some context. A recent report compiling the findings of several studies made by a global technology research and advisory company highlights the large role that marketing plays in technology decisions, both as a buyer and an influencer. The report says that marketing buys nearly 1 out of every 3 marketing-related technologies and services, and influences the purchase of around 1 in 2. It also says that between 70 and 80% of respondents confirm that marketing bears total responsibility for choosing and managing marketing technology and service providers in their organisation. And now, the same research company has made another "blockbuster" prediction - that by 2020, only 10% of IT spending will originate in the technology organisation, with the bulk driven by business functions, units and stakeholders. Whence came the premature doomsday prophecies for all people IT!

Of course, like the cash versus card versus mobile wallet debate, this argument too shall endure. And, so will the CIO, or CTO, or CDO (Chief Digital Officer) or whatever he is called a few years from now, admittedly, in an overlapping, even uneasy relationship with his organisation's marketing head honcho. That's because organisations cannot have it any way, other than having the best man for the job. Which means keeping the CIO in charge of the technology organisation, and leaving the CMO to do what he knows best, namely delight customers, build brands and generate business. So am I discounting the findings of this highly respected analyst and so many others like it? No, I'm only interpreting it differently.

I totally buy that the CMO and marketing organisation are today, key stakeholders in an enterprise's technology assets. Traditional marketing has been completely revolutionised by an explosion of digital devices and channels, from mobile to social media to cloud. Marketing budgets at large corporations routinely run into hundreds of million dollars, a lot of it spent on digital marketing, which in effect means on technology. At the same time, marketing is facing the same pressures of compression as the organisation - forces driving down revenue, profit and growth, which must be countered by efficiency, productivity and governance. And who knows how to do this better than the CIO?

Obviously, most organisations are smart enough to recognise this. Which is why they will continue to designate a seasoned CIO at the helm of technology. At the same time, they will make sure that an IT organisation that's governed with rigid inflexibly doesn't become a bottleneck for the business, which is growing increasingly dependent on agile and on-demand technology for its functioning. Organisations can reconcile these conflicting goals - of efficiency and effectiveness - only by balancing the two forces - IT's drive to enforce methodical, process-driven, deliberate sameness on one side, and marketing's need for innovation, agility and short-time-to-action on the other. So, allowing business units to run 'parallel IT organizations' to serve their own needs is quite out of the question.

A possible solution could be to leverage a next-generation business platform - a robust, integrated technology and services ecosystem designed to deliver marketing outcomes. The business platform combines apps that cut through technological complexities to help build and execute marketing campaigns on the one hand, and support marketing with services to listen to, engage with and understand consumers on the other. Without compromising on effectiveness or efficiency. And all of this made available through 'pay-by-the-sip' pricing that translates into unmatched simplicity, agility and scalability for the enterprise. But more importantly, the business platform is endowed with specialised capabilities which enable the marketing organisation to independently fulfill every possible digital marketing need and the CMO to unify and control digital marketing activities, even as the CIO "sees it all" as part of enterprise-view he'll have into the company's hybrid technology environment.

What this means is that the marketing organisation will never have to suffer a technology bottleneck when it needs additional capacity to support analytics for a new campaign; the relevant insights can simply be picked right off the platform. It means that the organisation's digital marketing assets are always available on tap to be reused and repurposed across campaigns globally. It means that the CMO can monitor and approve digital properties over a collaboration portal augmented with a workflow automation engine; track campaign efficiency or time to market in near real-time on an integrated marketing operations efficiency dashboard, or tune into customer sentiment on a range of digital channels.

And what of the CIO? Well, the Lord of Tech can now optimize the provisioning of infrastructure, services and applications by tracking utilisation, even charging back costs to the actual users, and ensuring governance of the ecosystem of vendors, partners and users that are part of the platform.

In other words, it's all about balance. Balance between efficiency-based compression and effectiveness-based explosion. Balance between flexibility and control. Balance between the CMO-CIO role equation. That same balance that's always been the secret behind any productive working relationship.


Samson David, VP & global head of business platforms, Infosys

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