Why one technology start-up is ditching the role of CIO

We talk with Australian online marketplace, hipages Group, about why its marketing and engineering teams are in charge of technology management

While the boundaries around the roles and responsibilities of CIOs and CMOs at large organisations continue to shift and morph, an interesting trend is emerging across Australia’s technology-based start-ups.

Newer technologies and concepts such as cloud computing and agile development mean that many of the traditional jobs of the IT function simply no longer exist. And at those companies where digital marketing is their heart and soul, responsibility for technology management is devolving to the functions that use it, such as marketing, product development and engineering.

This model is far from widespread, but it is becoming increasingly common amongst technology-based businesses, and may have ramifications as more traditional businesses make their way towards the cloud and agile development.

One example is the Sydney-based online marketplace operator, hipages Group, an 86-person company which operates a business directory that connects consumers to tradespeople. According to hipages Group’s chief marketing officer (CMO), Stephen Keighery, his company is one of Australia’s largest users of Google AdWords, working with 6 million keywords to market the services of 40,000 tradespeople across 1100 categories.

“We would spend more on AdWords than many companies spend on above-the-line advertising,” Keighery says. “And we’ve had to use a lot of tools to make that happen.”

As an example, hipages Group was one of the first users of Google Scripts, which allows it to pause and restart AdWords campaigns easily based on the data it is receiving from its website.

“Those sorts of things have allowed us to be really efficient in our spending,” Keighery says.

But it is the way hipages Group organises its internal resources that sets it apart from more traditional businesses. For instance, a large proportion of the operation is run in the cloud on Salesforce.com, but rather than manage it from within an IT group, development and maintenance is decentralised, with responsibility taken by engineering, product, marketing and various operations teams.

Hipages Group’ vice-president of product, Dino Talic, says this approach is also reflected in how the company tackles core product development. Rather than being divided into functions, hipages Group maintains a series of growth teams, each aligned to a specific metric. In this way it has avoided building an IT function and hiring a CIO, with technology-related decisions being taken from areas such as marketing and engineering.

“Technology is at the very core of what we do, we are a technology company,” Talic says. “Our CEO has an engineering background and I have an engineering background, so there are a lot of technical people on the team. Even within our online marketing team a lot of our guys are very apt at using technology.”

These autonomous growth teams consist of skills including engineers, online marketers, designers, product managers and even a data scientist.

“Traditional teams sit within their own silos, and they might not talk very often,” Talic says. “But if you put a marketer and an engineer in a room, things get done very fast and we see measureable results really quickly from that.”

Related:Do you need your own technologist?

Keighery says this structure is a response to the nature of the business and its evolution.

“A big reason that product, tech and marketing sit so close together is that we really can’t divorce the growth of the product from the product itself,” Keighery says. “Being a marketplace, the size of the marketplace impacts on the quality of that product or the experience that that user gets.

“The bigger that community is, the more valuable the product becomes. So customer acquisition for us, and working with the online marketing team, is crucially important because that goes to the heart of our product build-out and how good an experience users have on our site.”

Hence the growth teams are given everything they need to achieve their objectives.

“Having a CIO at the top dictating the structure or the tools that can be used can be a little stifling to that growth,” Keighery says. “Part of the growth methodology is really about testing and iterating. So a lot of the hypotheses we form will include [investigation of] a minimum viable product, and most CIOs would really hate that.”

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