CMOs And CIOs Should Partner One Hackathon At A Time

The CMO is poised to become the biggest commissioner of IT projects in an organisation, according to Gartner's well-quoted prediction, and so it is hardly surprising that the relationship with the CIO is likely to change.

There are a lot of conversations to be had around how this shift in budgetary power toward marketing impacts internal politics and the stresses and strains it causes.

Ultimately, however, like all complex issues there really is a very simple overriding priority -- can you build me a single vision of the customer that is consistent across all channels and is capable of adapting quickly to new opportunities? In other words, the CMO wants an end to silos -- he or she wants data to be easily interrogated for new opportunities that do not fit into the filing system of old.

Marketing isn't without its faults, and must take a share of the blame for treating each campaign as a unique event with its own data sets and insights that are isolated rather than seen as a homogeneous, living and expanding set of insights that can be actioned. Moving from one campaign to the next without a central point or strategy or customer hub as an anchor isn't exactly being digital -- and can lead IT to immediately see a double standard.

So while Accenture's latest research called for all the things you would usually expect from just such a report -- establish a strategy and work on it as partners -- there are some interesting notes to pick out from how large organisations are putting this in to action.

A big takeaway from companies I have spoken with is that you can't suddenly ask people to just do something. Just like people don't get married on a first date, you need to have a way for IT and marketing staff to get to know one another by collaborating on bite-sized projects. The key point that has been reiterated to me is that neither "side" should own the project and it should be equally funded by the CIO and CMO to whom the project team should jointly report.

It could be just a small question -- how do we better understand why some fans like one type of content and another, or how can we incorporate this company's third-party data into our own to determine whether there are any opportunities we're missing? 

Rather than expect people to run a whole marathon at once, taking the transition one mile at a time would appear to be bearing fruit at organisations who encourage this one-step-at-a-time partnership approach.

The next stage, I think, could well be to embrace the hackathon. These have famously been used by large digital companies to come up with tools and features such as the "like" button on Facebook.

Companies -- and Nestle is usually identified as a leader here -- are turning to these "close the doors and feed them pizza" events to hold the equivalent of brainstorms, where teams from multiple disciplines including marketing and IT can form up and solve an issue.

The big advantage here is that nobody is forcing IT and marketing execs to get together. They will naturally choose to form around a problem, so it's a more natural way of encouraging a partnership.

Plus, sharing a pizza is as good a way as any to break down barriers and allow each side to see the other's problems -- IT can see how digital means challenges can change and need to be adapted to quickly, while marketing can see you can't just make a request and expect it to happen instantly -- certainly not without impacting another part of the IT ecosystem.

Feedback from companies that have started this approach has generally been very positive, and let's face it -- if you're going to try team building, isn't it better to focus on something the company needs rather than a day of paintballing?

So as the debate about the relationship between CMOs and CIOs rages on, expect to see more references to hackathons as the two C-Suite functions move closer together, one challenge at a time.
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