Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

The convergence of technology, Internet-based services, online content and social media is driving a paradigm shift in business. Because of this, companies that aim to remain competitive and thrive in the future, regardless of size or industry, need to adapt by developing relevant solutions.

Most organisations are recognising that they need to diversify to reignite growth or boost sales in an increasingly digital environment and have to respond to the rapid rate of disruption that is happening – often from agile start-ups that are better able to leverage tech. So said Hans Zachar, managing director technology strategy at Accenture, speaking at a recent CMO2020 event.  TheCMO2020 initiative was conceptualised by ad-tech company Popimedia to help define the future role of CMOs.

The event focused on the role of chief marketing officers (CMOs) compared with chief information officers (CIOs) to gauge the future of digital relevance and responsibility. “If your company isn’t already embracing technology, it’s rapidly becoming irrelevant,” Zachar said.

However, the big question is: who should champion a business’s technology evolution? Though the CIO may seem the obvious choice, this may be short-sighted, given that the role of IT in the organisation has changed, particularly as operational and administrative systems are now standardised tools, not competitive differentiators.

“Technology now needs to transition businesses towards collaborative multichannel models to enhance efficiencies and engagement, particularly with existing and potential customers,” said Zachar. In fact, the convergence of Internet-based services means technology can now potentially serve as the business platform, the sales channel, and the marketing and communications medium. This has effectively thrust the CMO into the proverbial hot seat.

According to Zachar, the head of marketing is increasingly recognised as the key leadership position for disruptive growth. “Of the over 5,500 polled respondents in our latest Tech Vision trend report, 50% agreed with this statement,” he said. Accordingly, the CMO is now more likely to take the blame if an organisation’s growth objectives are not met, he said, adding that CMOs therefore need to have a sense of the tech-enabled opportunities that exist and must start taking ownership of driving the disruption that will create growth.

But how, exactly, should CMOs be adapting? During a panel discussion on this issue, Marlon Moodley, managing director at B2Ha ICT Advisory, said that before the organisation could progress, there needed to be executive-level buy-in and support for the CMO’s role in spearheading this change. “Importantly, there needs to be collaboration between the CIO and the CMO to align resources and capabilities with organisational objectives.” Fellow panellist Howard Fox, commercial director at the Gordon Institute of Business Science, agreed that a partnership was required, because it’s “the world that’s changed, not marketing. You therefore need the CIO, who understands tech, and the CMO, who understands marketing, to move together in the same direction.”

However, Dave Ives, director of digital transformation at Karabina, argued that a fresh take on this tech paradigm was needed, possibly with the introduction of a chief digital officer – an outward-facing CIO who worked with the CMO to create the front-end systems that promote engagement and drive sales. “The traditional CIO then helps the CMO understand the back end and how changes to front-end business processes can be integrated into legacy systems,” he suggested.

For the partnership to be effective, both CMOs and CIOs need to change how they think, said Alessandro Colafranceschi, previous head of digital banking at Standard Bank. “Digital technology and the web form the new market. In this world, business is about clicks, which is driven by data,” he said, in reference to the vital need for organisations to start leveraging technology such as big data and analytics to derive insights that shape and drive business, sales, and marketing strategies.

Leaders who take complex tasks and simplify them using technology that establishes measurements and operations that drive the company towards it goals will make the greatest difference, said Angus Robinson, head of mobility and innovation at Native VML. “When these elements are clear and regularly monitored and tracked, using the correct metrics, then every department within the organisation knows what to work towards.”

Whatever organisational model is chosen, said Gil Sperling, chief technology officer at Popimedia, success will ultimately hinge on the strength of leadership and vision of the executive tasked with leading this tech-driven evolution. “Everyone needs to align with a single vision for this new dynamic to work, and given the central role that technology increasingly plays, this should be driven by someone who intrinsically understands data and technology. The question is, is that the CIO or the CMO?”

The answer to this, said Ives, will depend on the challenges faced by organisations in the future. Either way, there is no doubt that CMOs of the future will need to be multidisciplinary and at the cutting edge of technology, added Moodley, as they will increasingly be relied on to develop new business opportunities and take the organisation forward as fast as possible without jeopardising the business. 

The big take-out: Chief information officers and chief marketing officers will need to form close partnerships as businesses increasingly need to leverage technology such as big data and analytics to arrive at the insights that will drive business, sales and marketing strategies.

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