There’s been quite a bit of discussion lately of the rise of the Chief Digital Officer (CDO). In fact, research firm IDC recently made headlines by predicting the CDO would supplant two-thirds of CIOs at global companies by 2020.

The rationale seems to be that CDOs will deliver the technology driven products and services, as well as leverage their experience in setting strategy, spurring innovation and developing relationships. Other than the pure semantic differences – and an attempt at a controversial headline -- there is an important question buried in this research.

How can marketing and technology — or CDOs and CIOs — work in sync to provide the most agile powerful customer experiences?

Roles and Relationships

Earlier this year, consulting firm PwC released its 6th Annual Digital IQ Survey, which identified a strong CIO-CMO partnership as one of five best ways to maximizing digital technology investments. But, PwC also found only half of the companies it interviewed described this partnership as “strong.” In fact, researchers found this was the weakest among all the relationships in the C-Suite.

This is our experience as well. When we see real success — when large, global companies move swiftly and efficiently to optimize digital, customer-centric experiences — it’s when the CMO and CIO work in lockstep.

At the heart of this is an expansive view of the role of IT in relation to customers and recognition that it can provide a differentiating advantage for the marketing team.

In other words, it is the CMO’s role to focus on quick adaption and the creation of powerful content-driven experiences. And it is the CIO’s role to facilitate the capture of information about those customers in order to provide the actionable insight necessary to create those experiences.

3 Synchronization Points

In a very well-written response to IDC’s contention that the CDO will replace the CIO, Rob Preston, vice president and Editor in Chief of Information Week, noted that forward-thinking CIOs are already changing their roles within their organization and moving beyond IT chiefs. As he explained, "They’re strategists. Getting to that level isn’t a bridge too far even for CIO’s who today may be spending too much of their time in the weeds.”

Preston cited a recent Gartner survey that found 73 percent of 2,800 CIOs interviewed across the globe have “changed their leadership style” over the last three years.

This is the real key from our view. Both offline and online data will make up the totality of the actionable insights that help create better marketing strategies for the organization. Thus it requires a complete and holistic strategy to facilitate the integration of technology and the capture of data to be a truly agile organization.

Learning Opportunities

As we’ve discussed before, three aspects of this of this partnership between the CMO and CIO drives this agility. They are:

Shared Goals and KPI’s: We believe the CIO and CMO need to work together on a shared strategy, not just communicating individual plans.

Constant Iteration and Integration: A culture within marketing needs to exist, where the strategy for technology acquisition isn’t proprietary, but serves to make both groups faster and more integrated.

Content, Not Channels Is Central To Scalability: Technology that helps to facilitate the creation of content, no matter what channel it may ultimately end up on, is the key. No company can iterate at the speed of the emergence of new channels. Thus it becomes important to focus on content is managed in a holistic way, irrespective of a channel.

It bears mentioning that Gartner, in the same study where it cites the evolution of the CIO's role, also provides a warning that CIOs need to think “digital first.”

This same warning could apply to marketers. Unless they focus on creating better customer experiences and gathering actionable insight from those interactions, CMOs may find themselves on the wrong side of history.

This is the real lesson. Both the CMO and CIO have an opportunity to become much more strategic in the business and mold the future of its overall strategy. But they’ll only do so if they work together.