IT industry analyst, Gartner, predicts CMOs will spend more on IT than CIOs by 2017. This is being driven by the rise of areas such as digital and social media, as well as the onset of an era of Big Data, and reflects the fact that the CMO has an increasing technology responsibility in today’s digital world.

The CMO is at the heart of a data revolution which means companies have access to unprecedented (and growing) volumes of customer data; from billing information and account behavior to how customers interact with social media and customer service channels. Use it right and the benefits can be impressive – management consultancy, McKinsey, estimates that data-driven companies are five per cent more productive and six per cent more profitable than others.

However Big Data initiatives require a mix of skills and knowledge to deliver success. Despite their long-standing rivalry the CIO and CMO need to work together, and pool their talents, if Big Data is going to deliver Big Profits.

So what skills are needed – and how can companies bring them together under the same roof?

Getting into a big data mindset

The typical CMO is seen at the creative end of the spectrum. They are more likely to be hired for their ability to generate big ideas and their positive, ‘can do’ attitude. Of course you will get exceptions, but in general rather than focusing on the details of processes, CMOs are more fixed on looking at achieving the end goal, paying less attention to the ‘means’ to concentrate on the ‘results’. Additionally today CMOs normally have access to the data, as well as ideas on what they’d like to use it for.

In contrast, traditional CIOs have to be more focused on systems, processes and structures – and delivering them within budget. Skill-wise they have to combine attention to detail and dependability and balance the responsibility of keeping existing IT infrastructure working while driving new innovation.

While this means they are used to operating reactively – managing transaction and batch processing for example, they do understand the complexity behind new initiatives such as Big Data in a way that CMOs simply can’t. 49% of CIOs complain that marketing pulls in new technology with no consideration for IT standards – making their job more complex.

Marrying skill sets

It is vital that CMOs and CIOs combine their skills when it comes to Big Data. CMOs should create the use cases and outline goals for initiatives, and CIOs then need to evaluate these and build requirements and feasibility studies that meet them. Big Data is a key weapon in ensuring business competitiveness, but projects are more likely to succeed if IT and marketing work together to deliver the benefits for their organisation. Here are five areas to focus on:

1. Agreeing goals

Decision making needs to be clear, with responsibilities mapped out from the start and transparent reporting so everyone can see progress. Goals need to be agreed and accepted by everyone involved – both marketing and IT – and regularly reviewed in an open, honest manner.

2. Communicating beyond silos

Just bringing the CIO and CMO together isn’t enough. There needs to be communication between marketers and IT staff at all levels. Some companies have moved the departments onto the same floor or even mixed staff in an open plan office. Get people socialising and this will help develop understanding and mutual respect.

3. Understand each other’s language

IT and marketing speak different ‘languages’, with their own jargon and buzzwords, meaning you might need to translate between the two. Look at bringing in people with a mix of both disciplines – technical staff with previous involvement in marketing campaigns, for example, so that they can bridge the gap between enterprise IT architecture and marketing and business strategy.

4. Bring skill sets together

Different parts of the Big Data project require different skills, so make sure you have the right people in your teams. Create a Center of Excellence that spans marketing and IT and map out the stages of the project so that you can assign staff to fit the roles you require.

5. Walk before you run

Tempting as it is to launch straight into Big Data projects, you need to learn to walk before you can run. Start with pilot projects which allow you to learn how to work together, develop best practice quickly and even fail without the consequences being too catastrophic. Once the relationship and expertise has developed, you can move onto more significant Big Data projects with a much greater chance of success.

Tom Schuster

Tom Schuster


Tom Schuster, CEO of Searchmetrics, the digital marketing software company.