Forrester Research says a strengthened relationship between the CMO and CIO will be paramount for companies' success in 2015.

Shocked? Neither are we. This executive relationship -- and how it must be tightened, glued, bonded and sealed -- has been bandied about before. 

Marketing and information technology leaders reached by CMSWire agree the CIO-CMO is an important relationship in the executive scheme of things.

But just how important depends, they say.

"While there is no doubt that the CIO-CMO relationship is key to success in the digital age, the same applies to relationships across the C-suite," said Ian Cox, a London-based author who was a finalist for the British Computer Society’s CIO of the Year award in 2011 and was also ranked among the top 100 UK CIOs for 2012 by CIO Magazine.

Not All About Marketing

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Cox's point? There is more than marketing when it comes to executive functions in the digital world. Many organizations start their digital journeys with marketing-led initiatives using social media or a mobile app, he said.

CMOs, Cox added, are leading digital initiatives in areas such as developing the online customer experience, using analytics to understand customer preferences and behavior and using social media to engage customers and build brand awareness.

"And there is no doubt that a good working relationship between the organization’s CIO and CMO is key to the success of such initiatives," Cox said. "But there is more to digital than marketing, and there will be many digital initiatives that may not necessarily need the CMO to be involved to any significant extent, if at all. And even where the CMO is a key player, there will be other members of the C-suite who will also have significant roles in shaping and leading digital projects."

The digital transformation for a company involves multiple areas working together to create something new and innovative, Cox said, adding, "being a digital business means being a joined-up business."

"Digital," he said, "does not stop at functional boundaries; it flows through the organization to create integrated offerings and a seamless customer experience. The next game-changing idea could come from any part of the organization and through a previously untried combination of products, services, partners, suppliers, systems and/or data. The C-suite needs to have a collaborative culture; they need to be comfortable working together across functional and organizational boundaries."

Differing Needs

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No one is saying here CIOs and CMOs should not work closely together. But just how much they should depends based on the makeup of an organization, said Atri Chatterjee, chief marketing officer at Beaverton, Ore.-based Act-On Software.

"I think that depends on the lens you are wearing -- which can be determined by the size of the organization for which you are the CMO," Chatterjee said. "If you work for a small or mid-sized company you probably use cloud-based applications that meet your needs out-of-the-box and require very little IT assistance to integrate or run. On the other hand, if you work for a large Fortune 1,000 company then you should have direct alignment with the CIO to ensure that your department is well integrated into your company’s overall IT infrastructure."

Any company where members of the C-suite are more aligned on their use of technology, he said, is more likely to be successful.

"Therefore," Chatterjee added, "CIOs should work more closely with not only CMOs but also with leaders of all the other major functional heads in the company."

Does IT need to be more involved in tool selection, rather than just running systems? IT and the line of business need to balance each other out, Chatterjee said.

"Today’s line of business leaders are a lot more technology savvy than a few years ago and have experience using new tools to get a competitive advantage," he told CMSWire. "IT is well suited to help with the analysis of various tools on their technical merits and fit within the infrastructure of the organization. These two skills complement each other and are necessary to make the right decisions."

Who Will Be Left Behind?

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Forrester remains steadfast on its belief that the CMO and CIO relationship will determine success for businesses this year. 

"Companies where the CIO and CMO work as a team enabling customer-focused technology -- companies like Lego and Home Depot -- will gain market share," blogged Forrester's Cliff Condon, chief research officer. 

More than 60 percent of CMOs and CIOs tell Forrester they enjoy a relationship of mutual trust and respect, but only 46 percent of marketing leaders and 51 percent of technology management leaders have a single view of their customer across all the company’s touchpoints.

"Half of CMOs and CIOs deploy projects jointly -- these are the companies that will establish competitive advantage," Condon wrote. "The other half will get left behind."