Discussion Point Will the CMO Replace the CIO

You've heard it at technology conferences, you've read it in research reports, maybe you've even shared it at the water cooler.

CMOs drive technology decisions today. The CIO's job is obsolete. Soon we won't need CIOs.

It's not a new debate. By now, the topic is covered regularly in the media, including CMSWire. Take a look at headlines like "Goodbye CIO? Why the Role May Ultimately Disappear" and "Should the CIO Report to the CMO?"  Sometimes, it's a plea for survival: "Hey, CMO! Hey, CIO! Work Together or Lose Everything."

Yes, today's CMOs are expected to be technology-savvy managers with a hunger for big data, digital asset management, marketing automation and predictive analysis. They will own revenue goals and formulate sales projections for the CFO based on dashboards they monitor by the hour. 

But, honestly, do they even want to take on the responsibilities of an enterprise CIO? We decided to put the question before four experts who deal with this issue every day -- two technologists and two marketers. 

The Question

Is the CMO really on the way to replacing the CIO?

The Answers

Cary Sylvester, VP Technical Innovation and Communications, Keller Williams Realty International


Sylvester leads global, technical and communication initiatives for Keller Williams, including the tech team's strategic planning and external relations. Previously, she was an Oracle consultant with Database Consultants, implementation manager for Copera and database architect at Dell. Sylvester is an Oracle Certified Professional. She and her family live in Austin. Tweet to Cary Sylvester.

No, I don’t see the CMO replacing the CIO. Have the roles changed? Absolutely! The CMO has become far more tech savvy, but haven’t most of our business units become tech savvy as well? Are we threatened by an events department that knows event software better than IT? No, and we shouldn’t feel threatened by a tech-savvy CMO. Instead, we should embrace it as a powerful partnership.

A CIO has always had an overarching view of the company as most departments and/or initiatives in some way, shape or form and that gives the CIO a unique view of the entire enterprise – from customers to the accounting department. That hasn’t changed. The change is focus. The CIO of the past has been focused on providing services to other departments with ERP at the top of the list and, unfortunately, marketing many times at the bottom of the priority list. 

The evolving CIO is focused on bringing new business initiatives to the table to drive revenue and customer acquisition/retention – right along with marketing (and sales!). We’re no longer about building software to match a paper process … it’s about building a better process with great software. The CIO is a driver for business change that creates a better customer experience – in partnership with their CMO. 

Tim Herbert, VP Research, CompTIA


Herbert leads the market intelligence program at the Computing Technology Industry Association (CompTIA). Before that, he was a researcher at the Consumer Electronics Association, owner of the International CES tradeshow. He  describes himself as "a data junky who works to ... make sense of the ever-changing technology landscape." He's currently analyzing trends in cloud computing, mobility, big data, collaboration technologies, the IT channel and workforce issues. Tweet to Tim Herbert.

Technology’s transition from the “backroom to the boardroom” is well underway. Because of technology’s notable role in the area of customer engagement – and therefore the bottom line – CMOs have been at the forefront of discussions involving how organizations procure, deploy and manage technology. Undoubtedly, CMOs have more influence with technology today, but there is little evidence to suggest they will replace CIOs any time soon. Consider these points:

  • Organizations are generally not shifting budget from CIOs to CMOs. When CMOs invest in technology, it’s often budget that was previously allocated to traditional marketing expenditures. For example, instead of paper catalogs, brochures or print ads, it’s now e-books, mobile apps and social media campaigns.With that being said, there are some emerging areas, such as big data analytics and next-gen CRMs, that closely align with CMO responsibilities and could result in more budget influence at the expense of the CIO.
  • A recent CompTIA study among IT company executives found that only 11 percent expect a significant shift in technology purchase authority away from the CIO among their customers, while 44 percent expect a modest shift. From the perspective of those selling technology, there is an acknowledgement of the growing buying clout of line-of-business executives, but hardly an expectation the CIO will be replaced.
  • Lastly, the US Bureau of Labor Statistics' 10-year occupational forecast projects a 12 percent growth rate for marketing managers – the occupation category covering CMOs – over the 2012-2022 period, compared to a 15 percent growth rate for computer and information systems managers, the category covering CIOs. The data further calls into question a scenario whereby CMOs replace CIOs. 

Kathleen Schaub, VP Research,  IDC’s CMO Advisory Practice


Schaub has worked in the B2B technology area for 25 years. In her current role, she provides research-based guidance to clients, but she has spent much of her career as a practitioner and as a consultant working on the cusp  of marketing and sales. Her past positions include VP for marketing operations at Sybase, CMO for Vanstar (formerly ComputerLand), and as an executive at Cadence Design Systems. She serves on the board of MOCCA and Dublin Partners in Education. Tweet to Kathleen Schaub

This debate needs reframing. It's not about rearranging the same old chess pieces on the same tired board. We're witnessing opening day of a new game -- with new game pieces (some yet to be discovered) and open territory. The CMO, more than any other executive, owns the challenge and opportunity of the company's digital evolution as it relates to customers. Tech-and-business-savvy CMOs are replacing those stuck with only branding experience. 

CMOs will commandeer a chunk of today's CIO responsibility.  Other business executives are also taking bites. Line-of-business (LOB) executives already influence 61 percent of technology spending. On average, 8 percent of today's LOB employees are technical personnel. This trend affects all business functions -- not just marketing -- but the CMO is rising fastest (followed by security and risk).

However, the CIO role will neither die nor be subsumed. Technology has never been more important. The 3rd Platform -- as IDC calls the era of cloud, mobile, social, and big data -- requires that companies step up to the strategic integration of company silos into an awesome, competitive, customer experience. On the horizon is the Internet-of-Things. These trends impact much more than just marketing. Both the CMO and the CIO have a big, but radically different, future ahead.

Donovan Neale-May, Executive Director, CMO Council

2014-05-August-Donovan Neale-May.jpg

Neale-May leads the 7,000-member Chief Marketing Officer Council, the Business Performance Innovation Network and GlobalFluency -- each of which operates in countries around the globe. Previously, he held senior positions at Ogilvy & Mather in Silicon Valley, New York and Los Angeles. He's listed in BtoB Magazine as one of the "100 Most Influential BtoB Marketers In North America."  Neale-May also sits on the board of Travelzoo and Rhodes University in South Africa, and is an adjunct professor at Seoul National University in South Korea. Tweet to Donovan Neale-May.

No CMO I know would want the CIO job. And vice versa. Both are faced with massive transformation and complexity in their functional areas. Both need to re-skill and uplift their organizations. And most importantly, both need to integrate and unify disparate technologies, whether for more effective marketing or improved business performance. While CMOs and CIOs are viewed as endangered species by some consultants, they should be joined at the hip to map strategies that make technology pivotal to customer insight, experience and interaction, thus improving results, revenue and retention. 

Some smart CMOs, of course, are recruiting from their IT departments to staff up web, social, mobile, application management and data analytics functions. But the real priority should be a tighter CMO-CIO partnership to address data sprawl and bring more commitment and rigor to customer-centric practices across the enterprise. 

The two chiefs have an urgent need to collaborate as their fiefdoms are being somewhat eroded by new C-level executive appointments with a mandate to drive revenue, digital, innovation, customer experience, insight and relationships. These new chiefs are poaching territory that should be owned by both CMOs and CIOs.