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CIOs and CMOs in a tug of war? Doh!

Den Howlett Profile picture for user gonzodaddy April 27, 2013
Is there a war going on between CIOs and CMOs? In some circumstances yes but then it doesn't sound like a fruitful way to acquire technology assets. I think there is a better way to look at how spend occurs looking for the mutual value that each party can bring to the table.

It is rare for me to call out and out foul on a fellow commenter but Dion Hinchcliffe’s piece: A new reality between the CMO and CIO is the closest thing I have seen in a long time that I can describe as garbage.

In a piece that provides not a single statistic or example, Hinchcliffe manages to weave a yarn that starts with the polemic:

Today’s rapidly shifting marketplace is pushing business innovation and agility to new levels, while the rising primacy of digital engagement and all data related to it undergoes a tug of war between the CMO and CIO. How will businesses recalibrate these strategic roles for this new reality?

Larding the argument with ‘analysis’ and ‘belief’ I can find little of redeeming value in the piece. If anything, it is typical of the kind of drive by summary that takes a tiny slice of experience and then generalises to the whole world, often in an effort to ride a buzzword driven wave. It demonstrates the kind of methodologically nutty ‘analysis’ that pervades much of the fashionista commentary that pollutes our media and which adds little of practical value.

Contrast that with Vinnie Mirchandani’s perspective. He provides both broad and specific examples of what he concludes as:

The CIO and IT have long been morphing. And hearing greatly exaggerated rumors of their demise.

I take a different perspective. While some of Vinnie’s arguments are compelling and especially where he says:

Most CIOs I know do not like the current IT status quo, and some are pretty vocal about it

… is important to understand those views are skewed towards his innovation agenda. Nothing wrong with that and always good to hear but let’s understand their context before generalising.

From everything I see, CIOs have a problem that vendors do little to help solve. The tech industry is laden with marketing buzzwords that promise the earth and yet often comes up short in key technical areas. Some of those shortcomings are temporary, others more fundamental. A great example comes in the shape of responses to SAP Business Suite on HANA.

As background, SAP launched BS/H to great fanfare in January. As the weeks have rolled by, questions have emerged. I asked about one aspect of this technology. Jim Spath, who works for Black & Decker asks more mundane but crucially important questions. In a piece entitled Fast Is Not a Number, Spath throws out a simple question: where are the numbers for a specific process (SD) so that he can benchmark the results for a transaction system?

Comments in the thread are interesting. I can sum most of them up as implying: ‘it doesn’t matter because the overall benefits are good enough to justify the investment.’ That argument might work well when selling a $65 a month application to a line of business person but it doesn’t cut the mustard when the CIO is required to implement AND justify all the paraphernalia that surround a substantial investment. What almost everyone is missing in the discussion is the fact that Spath only wants to know the numbers. He doesn’t wish to place a judgment on the technology per se. In other words, Spath wants to contextualise a piece of the BS/H puzzle.

Avoiding these problems via marketing statements that serve to exclude the CIO help no one. If anything, they are likely to give rise to exactly the kind of ‘tug of war’ that Hinchcliffe implies, lead to a defensive IT organisation and preface disappointment

Quo vadis?

The time has come for both line of business and IT people to put down their weapons of mutually assured destruction and recognise that each has something of equal value to bring to the business value party.

Mirchandani’s examples point in the right direction. On the one hand, the companies he profiles are edge and leading edge cases. On the other hand, the adventurous CXO should also be celebrated. Dave Smoley, Flextronics’ CIO was an early adopter of Workday. It was a risk, but one that has paid off and saved money. It is easy to attribute the whole of that success to the solution but that would be to ignore the thinking behind the investment and the manner in which Smoley assured success.

When technical folk ask pointed questions the default answer should be: here are the answers or we’ll get back to you.

It all comes down to this: the tech industry is awash with fantastic (and fantastical) ideas. Many will fail. That’s the nature of IT innovation and a reality everyone should embrace. I suspect that far fewer ideas would fail if there was a sensible conversation between IT and those who want to try new things. We need a different dialog. We need conversations and stories that envision outcomes that both benefit the business but which also recognise the crucial role our internal technology partners play in both delivering solutions and releasing resources for the kinds of innovation Mirchandani envisions.

When that happens, IT does not simply become an enabler but a value added service to the business. Line of business people anxious to deploy new technology for (name your business campaign here) might not be happy with that prospect but then I wonder if they will be so quick to shoulder the responsibility of failure?

I’d much rather have the Spath’s of this world publicly asking questions born of deep experience than simply ignored because their view doesn’t slot into the marketing messaging of the latest technology fashion statement. On the other hand, I want to see more of the Smoley’s of this world showcasing not just their solutions but their experience.

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