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The changing role of the CIO

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CIO-CMO partnerships: Getting past the stereotypes

Anthony Christie, chief marketing officer (CMO) at telecommunications giant Level 3 Communications, sat down with executive editor Linda Tucci at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium in Cambridge, Mass., to talk about the impact of digitization on the enterprise. In part one of this two-part SearchCIO video, Christie, formerly the CIO and CTO at Global Crossing, talks about how his IT experience informs on his role as CMO, the importance of a strong CIO-CMO partnership, and why marketing and IT stereotypes are especially counterproductive in a digital economy.

I'd like to start out by asking some questions about your role. You're the CMO. But before you joined Level 3, you were the CIO and CTO for Global Crossing. How important was your training as a CIO to the job you do now?

Anthony Christie: I'd say I think it's extremely important. … I will say that being a chief marketing officer in a digital arena today -- and then having the technical training, the IT training and just the awareness of how those two disciplines fit together -- makes my team and me extremely effective when we're taking on the challenges that exist in the marketplace today on behalf of our customers. There's nothing better than being able to walk a mile in your customer's shoes. And I would say that having had that experience over the years has helped me and our team greatly.

There's research out there from Forrester Research, Gartner and others saying that the CIO-CMO relationship now may be one of the most important in the C-suite, but it has to be nurtured. And at many companies it's still not there -- the divide is really pretty vast. What advice would you give to CMOs and CIOs in cementing that relationship or coming up with a productive relationship?

Christie: It's interesting. I think it depends on who you talk to. At this event you could probably pick 10 people. And, I'm just guessing, but five of them would say, 'I know exactly what you're referring to when you talk about this friction that exists between a CMO and a CIO.' And I'll bet there's five that say, 'You know, I'm not sure. It's kind of urban legend.' I put myself in the camp of urban legend. And the reason is that I just view any key relationship as something that's worth investing in.

Now, that being said, I think that some of the issues that exist are a direct result of marketing, a lot of times, looking at IT and technologists as being an obstacle. You know, marketers need to move really, really fast, etc., etc. Technology, IT, they get what they get done because there's standards and there's discipline and there's infrastructure, and there's process. Let's be really, really clear. If we're serious about digital transformation, you need a scalable, reliable, high-performing infrastructure with which to innovate on. And any marketer that's not aware of that, they better stop and take a breath.

[There's] the flip side, too. Having been on both sides of the table, I know that many times IT leaders and technologists, they'll look at marketers as, 'Oh, big picture.' Details aren't as important, etc., etc. Let's be realistic. You need both [IT and marketing] in order to satisfy your customers in a digital environment.

Given that we are a digital economy, a digital marketplace, do you think the CMO is closer to speaking the same language of IT or at least is familiar with that language so that the two can communicate?

Christie: I have seen that change. I have definitely seen that change over the past couple of years. And maybe it's because marketing folks, product folks, are realizing more and more that they need to understand that language in order to get things done more quickly.

I'm not sure what the actual cause is or if that's a correlation. But the fact is I am seeing it. I am seeing a change [in how marketing and IT communicate], and I think it has to change.

One more CIO role question. Given the rapidity of technological change, is there any sort of training for a CIO other than on-the-job training to do the job? Can you go to school to be a CIO these days?

Christie: I'm a firm believer in a formal foundation, strong framework. You need to have a basis with which to respond to new challenges. So, whether it's understanding information systems, whether it's having your right hook be coding -- I think all of those are great. However, the ability to innovate, the ability to communicate, the ability to problem solve, to collaborate -- this issue between marketing and IT -- you've got to be able to do that. You [have] got to dive in and invest in that -- I'm not sure that there's a class per se that can teach you that.

Also from the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium, learn why CIOs should form strong business partnerships, how to balance efficiency with innovation and why 80% of customer relations might be digital by 2020.

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Essential Guide

The changing role of the CIO

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