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RMIT, MyState, Clubs Australia and Dexus on the keys to CMO-CIO alignment

Digital transformation without customer experience focus will only get organisations so far. And that's where marketing and technology alignment comes in, say these executive leaders

Digital is a driver and catalyst for delivering company growth and transformation across industries. And both marketing and IT teams recognise its importance as a strategic tool and mechanism to deliver growth ambitions and outcomes.  

But without alignment between the two functions, organisations will only get so far in disrupting themselves and achieving the customer-led transformation required today, both sides agree.

Speaking on a panel during CMO and CIO’s recent Executive Connections virtual event series, sponsored by Adobe, marketing, digital and technology leaders from RMIT, MyState, Clubs Australia and Dexus Property Group shared how their respective organisations are pursuing transformation for growth, and the criticality of collaboration between marketing and IT to succeed.

Panellists agreed digital and technical capability can only succeed if organisations also pursue end-to-end customer experience excellence. This impetus to be more customer-led is also creating renewed urgency for marketing and IT teams to work more closely together and collaborate.

While it’s clear IT and marketing represent different parts of the chain - CIOs deliver the ‘how’; CMOs are about the ‘what’ - both sides see themselves as enabling functions for an organisation to transform, grow and be customer focused.

Over at Clubs Australia, for example, chief digital officer, David McGrath, is working to harness digitisation in order to disrupt the group’s collection of hospitality and gaming venues to make them both internally and externally more effective.

“We want to provide products and services of high value, track these from a data point of view, and track and target people to give that great experience in the right time and place. And you can’t do this without CMO, tech and digital all working in coordination,” McGrath said.   

RMIT CMO, Chaminda Ranasinghe, has spent the past decade working in organisations where digital was called out as a function in order to give it clear focus. By contrast, RMIT’s approach is to see the CMO and CIO as individuals and functions work hand-in-glove to drive its growth ambitions and agenda.

A big step forward was seeing both the CMO and CIO setting the agenda with the CEO alongside the head of strategy, exploring how digital fits into the business vision and objectives, Ranasinghe said.

“Most times, CMOs and CIOs are not the core part of an organisation. In banking I wasn’t the banker, and at the university, I’m not part of the academic team doing the teaching and learning. So how does the CMO and CIO be relevant to those orgs so they see value in the agenda you’re trying to drive?” he asked.

“In either role, you can help the business see the friction points. You can help with customer experience, show the value in disrupting yourselves as an organisation, provide the insights and then show teams why they should. And we can be a partner in that/

“That at least in our journey has been a key part of our success. We created a common goal and agenda between CMO and CIO, to help the core value proposition, and help the teams improve the offer to the customer.”  

MyState chief digital and marketing officer, Heather McGovern, said her role was introduced by the challenger back after several years of a digital transformation program which saw it replatform all back-end systems and legacy platforms.

“Eighteen months ago, there was a realisation we have the back-end systems working well, and straight through processing, but it all means nothing unless I deliver a great customer experience,” she said. “You can have a Ferrari in the garage but unless someone is driving the engine, it doesn’t make enough of a difference.

“My role was created as a hybrid role between pure-play marketing and digital, and to provide leadership for our organisation in terms of what digital CX needs to looks like. That’s been fundamental to success. And it’s a partnership with the tech team.”  

McGovern said a critical piece from the outset was defining what the partnership between marketing and technology needed to look like.

“We kept it simple: My team’s role is the ‘what’- what do we want to deliver to customer, what is in their best interests and what will drive the business forward. The tech team is the ‘how’ – how do we make it work, and how do we deliver what we look for,” McGovern explained. “That clear delineation provides great roadmap and platform for us to collaborate moving forward.  

“As we turned attention to delivering great CX, it’s building great capability, insights and mechanisms to get the customer feedback. That’s been key.”

Over at Dexus, CIO, Mark Hansen, said the propTech explosion has seen a lot of technology thrown at the organisation with thousands of new participants in the ecosystem.

“At the same time, we’re marrying that with what our marketing and CX teams are feeding us around what the demand and recognition of value is out there. We are working with them to find the right blend of solutions that will hit the mark with customers,” he said.

“Up to five years ago, we would have taken a ‘build it and they will come approach’. Now, we do a lot of more work in understanding customers, and customer segmentation, to make sure when we assess new products, we align them to a real need in the marketplace.”  

Keys to achieving CMO-CIO alignment

Through the panel discussion, a number of key elements were identified for ensuring stronger CMO-CIO connection and alignment. The first was being equal at a leadership level and having the same reporting lines within an organisation.

“One thing at RMIT that’s done wonders is the CMO and CIO are equals, sitting under the same functional structure. We work for the same person, have common goals and are seen as equals by others and in how we act,” Ranasinghe said. “Therefore, teams feel like equals and want to work with each other.

“It’s simple when we speak about it, but the shift that simple change made was amazing. It didn’t just shift our thinking as two functions, it’s shifted how the whole organisation look at marketing and IT.”  

Sharing common goals and metrics is another must, and panellists all pointed to the reorientation around seamless end-to-end customer experience as a big step towards alignment on common outcomes.  

“If a technologist has a passion in customer, the business and commerciality, and if the marketer has an interest in technology and is always looking at ways tech can help run and support the business and customers, that makes things so much easier,” Ranasinghe continued.  

“The CIO has been my partner in crime all the way - we don’t sit in swim lanes, we work together on most things. He has my back if we’re down on numbers, and I have his back if he’s working on a difficult tech issue, security being a recent one.”  

That kind of trust comes with hard work, Ranasinghe continued, and he noted the launch of number of martech solutions in the last two years saw teams from these two different parts of the organisation come together to deliver one outcome.

“Rather than business or marketing folks asking IT to deliver on their behalf, they work together in squads, working on the same problem with one outcome in mind. It’s just about changing the way you think about customer solution and business outcome you’re trying to drive,” he said.  

McGovern also highlighted getting MyState’s operating rhythms right as fundamental to transformation and growth.

“We found when we started to move to fortnightly and monthly sprint cycle, and were building up cadence of releases of capability to customers, that’s where we started to find out mojo,” she said.

“People started to align and work together in order to get that cadence going. What teams also realised was it didn’t need to be perfect, we could build and build on what we were doing for customers.”  

McGrath stressed the importance of cultural alignment and said the spirit of collaboration starts at the top of an organisation. To assist, Clubs Australia is adjusting skills development and its hiring approach.

“We hire more around the ability to learn, rather than the skills in front of us,” he said. “If you haven’t got an ability to learn and adapt, you’re going to struggle in any role you’re in.”

As everyone starts to feel shared responsibility in everyone else’s business, you collaborate more, McGrath said. “That said, you still need to have clear ownership,” he added.

“But we have moved to have a lot of collaboration around projects, with steering committees, and we’ll have people from four or five different departments involved in that.”  

You can check out the full panel discussion featuring RMIT, MyState, Clubs Australia and Dexus Property Group here.

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