Once upon a time, when the internet was in its corporate infancy, a set of decisions were made that have affected the development of online retail ever since.

Here, I explain those decisions, and the rise of the tech-savvy CMO.

The IT landgrab

This new interweb medium, it was decided, was clearly something to do with computers and therefore its ownership must lie with IT.

The IT department, attracted by the technical challenges and ballooning departmental budget, were only too happy to oblige and quickly made a land grab for the business’ online activities.

The effects of this decision are still being felt. CTOs, by their nature and by their training, focus on the areas which a technologist should. They are concerned about security, stability and process and these concerns don’t always chime with the needs of a business in its online presence.

CTOs wanted stable, monolithic systems underpinning their sites, but marketers want nimbleness and the ability to make changes in response to consumer demand – often contradictory requirements.

Moreover, as websites become an ever-more important profit centre for businesses, marketing and commercial departments have had to get more involved in the management of them, creating additional complexities as cross-departmental collaboration slowed decision making and stifled creativity.  

The impact of all of this has been a level of conflict between IT and marketing, with 32% of marketing execs claiming that the IT department hinders business success, according to Forrester research.  

The marketer fights back

This situation is now changing. A series of developments in marketing technology have meant that CMOs have had to become more tech savvy in their approach.  This in turn has meant that they are now taking ever more control of core website processes. 

The first step came in the early 2000s, when meaningful web analytics came on the scene. Prior to this, analytics consisted of traffic measurement to help manage site stability and capacity, but marketing analytics suddenly gave marketers a tool and a new skill set that drew them closer to the website.  

This was followed shortly after by the rise of testing packages. These helped marketers to act upon the trends they saw in their analytics and gave them a real channel to help influence what was happening on the site.

More recently, tag management has started to put real power into the hands of marketers. By removing the need for advanced technical skills in order to implement new marketing technologies, tag management directly puts core IT capabilities in the hands of the marketing department. 

The 21st century marketer

These developments might each on their own seem minor, but taken as a whole they represent the beginning of a real power shift within businesses.  

The rise of new marketing technologies have given the CMO not only the skills that help them understand and manage the website, they have also given them the capability to do so without recourse to the IT department.  

This shift is played out in the numbers, with management consultancy McKinsey claiming that CMOs will be spending more on IT by 2017 than CIOs and CTOs.

The new techy CMO, or CMIO as we might call them, combines the creativity and customer focus of his predecessor, but combined with the technical understanding and capabilities of the CTO.  

Now, rather than developing a strategy and handing it over to IT to implement, the CMIO (Chief Marketing Information Officer) can see a project through from end-to-end, ensuring that nothing gets lost in translation and that projects reach the market far quicker than was ever previously possible.

New tools are in fact taking this even further.  A new set of technologies known as Customer Experience Management (CXM) essentially give marketers control of the display layer on the website, letting them access the insight and understanding gained from analytics and testing and then roll out content and campaigns entirely independently of the IT department.

The new CTO

Of course, the IT department isn’t redundant. CMIOs might be tech-savvy, but they probably don’t want to get involved in security, servers or payment processing systems.  

The CTO has a vital role in overseeing and optimising the core processes that underpin a business’ web presence and that’s as it should be. The only change is that they must now share ownership of the web with a new type of techy marketer.

Ian McCaig

Published 1 August, 2013 by Ian McCaig

Ian McCaig is Founder at Qubit and a contributor to Econsultancy.

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Comments (5)

Dominic Byrne

Dominic Byrne, Chief Digital Officer (CDO) at DigiToro

Nice Article Ian, I have observed that some businesses are really struggling with untangling of the "land grab"....

There are lots of job security issues and reluctance to share control. It's a real shame because all departments should be working collaboratively in the best interest of the business.

With a generation of many quality marketers (CMO's) trying to adapt to the digital shift, do you see a current role in business for a CDO?


almost 5 years ago

David Sealey

David Sealey, Head of Digital Consulting at CACI

The parable of the CIO's car.

A CIO enters his car and drives the same dangerous road every day. With twists, blind bends, bad weather and other dangerous drivers, the road requires a great deal of skill to drive.

One day a Vendor sells the CMO some go faster stripes for the car. "Here" he says, "these stripes can stick to the car and make it go faster."

Easily the stripes stick to the car. The CMO is happy. The CIO does not mind as it does not make the drive any more dangerous.

Over many months the Vendor and his associates sell the CMO additional accessories for the car. Spinning hub caps, a sat nav device, fluffy dice and even a performance exhaust.

However one day when the CIO comes to the car, he is shocked to find that the CMO's vendors are installing dual control pedals and have moved the steering wheel to the centre of the car.

"What is happening?" asks the stunned CIO.

With confidence the CMO replied, "We were not making the journey fast enough, so the Vendor and I have added new features to get us to the destination. I have picked the best in class pedals and the changes are being done by an experienced fitter."

With a deep breath, the CIO points out "Neither you nor the Vendor know the dangers of the road ahead. You do not know where the blind bends are. You do not know how dangerous the drivers on the road can be.

"Whilst this car may appear old; it is reliable, safe and completes a difficult journey. I know this car inside and out. I know what it is capable of. These new changes risk damaging that safety and reliability.

"We may not be able to complete the journey."


CIOs need to be customer centric and help CMOs by removing obstacles to IT innovation.

CMOs need to appreciate the complex demands placed upon the CIO and be patient.

Ultimately they need to work together and have a single strategy rather than separate technology and marketing strategies. If they can't/won't/don't then the CEO needs to step up and direct them more clearly or change some roles.

Either way, there is a grave danger in CMOs running away with technology budgets. CIO/CTOs have huge experience in tech acquisition, integration and operations. They are ignored at the business' peril.

Kind regards

David Sealey (@sealeyd)
Marketing technology specialist
All opinions are my own and not necessarily those of my employer

almost 5 years ago


Julie Schwartz

"...management consultancy McKinsey claiming that CMOs will be spending more on IT by 2017 than CIOs and CTOs."

I thought it was Gartner (in particular Laura McClellan) who made this prediction. Do you have a source where McKinsey is also saying this? If yes, please share the link!


almost 5 years ago

Ian McCaig

Ian McCaig, CMO & Founder at Qubit

Julie - I think you might be correct about the origination of this fact being Gartner. I think i have seen many other companies quote it including Mckinsey.

We are currently working on some of our own research with another one of the major research houses and our believe is that this trend is happening quicker than even Gartner suspected.

Dominic - you're point about the CDO is a very interesting one. We find you can draw a nice analogy to this role with the head of electricity which was a job title for many companies during the industrial revolution. I think in the short term it is required, especically in more traditional businesses and media agencies but as digital becomes central to everything a company does the need to have a CDO becomes less of a necessity.

I think the more interesting trend is how Marketing teams are becoming more data and technically savvy as the role evolves and marketing becomes more accountable. It is a very exciting space.

almost 5 years ago


Carey Bunks

This is a very insightful article, and I couldn't agree more.

almost 5 years ago

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