Will CIOs survive the IT evolution?

Last week I shared an interesting article on my LinkedIn page projecting how Chief Marketing Officers would own a greater share of the IT budget than Chief Information Officers in the near future. I was surprised by the discussion it provoked.

Responses ranged from citing Nick Carr’s famous “IT Doesn’t Matter” article from a decade ago (the one that argued for IT management to become “boring”) to mini lectures on IT economics. Some argued it wasn’t numerically possible for CMOs to take the lead, given how much of IT spend goes to “keeping the lights on” (running ERP systems, data centers, etc) in most businesses.

I thoroughly appreciated the perspectives – none were wrong – but couldn’t help feeling the connection to other IT trends hadn’t been adequately made.

If you’ve read some of my blogs, you know I have a few hot-button topics: Digital transformation, innovation and truly providing leadership that helps people realize their potential and enable business success.

When I read the piece on CMO IT spend eclipsing that of CIOs I didn’t take umbrage at the thought of a marketing professional running IT, nor did I quibble with the practical realities of most IT budgets for at least the next decade. Instead I saw a symptom that CIOs were failing (or at least perceived to be) at making the transition from being a Service Provider to a Strategic Partner. I saw adaptation at work.

Let me explain:

  • No CMO I’ve met in my 25+ year career wants to have anything to do with running IT. They just want to do their job promoting mindshare for their business and its products.
  • CMOs get involved in IT spending decisions when they don’t like the answer IT gives them, namely that “it” (whatever “it” is) can’t be done, that it will take too long, that it will cost too much.
  • That puts the CMO (or any business stakeholder) in the position of looking for external IT solutions on their own and then comparing what those vendors tell them with what their internal IT quoted. Internal IT, in many cases, becomes just another vendor to manage.

Depending on your perspective, you may celebrate that outcome or be dismayed. If you’re in the CIO camp, you probably think a CMO and his or her staff are woefully underprepared to understand the nuances of vendor comparisons or, worse, see the purposeful omissions many vendors make during a sales cycle. Dilbert would have a field day!

But that’s not the point I want make. I want – no, need – CIOs to understand that once the above situation plays out, it’s too late. You’ve missed your opportunity to collaborate with your fellow CXO, and thus you’ve missed the chance to take a leadership role in your firm’s Digital Transformation.

So there it is: Transform or be transformed. Evolve or go extinct.

When confronted with a challenging request from a CMO or another business partner, you can say no and watch the situation I described here play out. Or you can take ownership of the business need and research solutions on your own.

I recommend you be a partner to your peers. Better yet, be proactive and create an environment that fosters innovation, one where your people constantly survey the market and raise ideas for adopting external services where appropriate, or incorporating those capabilities into internally delivered IT solutions.

As a CIO, it’s your choice how you react when a colleague looks to you for help. But consider carefully how your actions today could affect how your role evolves in the very near future.


Inside the minds of today’s digital leaders

Why innovation matters (and how to inspire it)

5 barriers to digital success – and one way to overcome them all



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