The CIO-CMO Partnership in PracticeBy Jim Nash | Posted 03-06-2012
To understand the hurdles that organizations face when they want the CIO and CMO to work almost as one, perhaps a joke will help.
Researchers blindfold a CIO and ask her to describe a formless, unfamiliar object. The CIO holds it for a minute. "It won't work with my systems, managing it will be a nightmare, and it presents an obvious security risk," she says with dread.
A CMO performs the same test and almost immediately shouts, "I can sell it! It feels shiny. Is it?"
CIOs and CEOs will always have unique perspectives, but there are increasing instances of CIOs and CMOs doing the unthinkable -- working in strategic, open-ended relationships marked by a confluence of goals and ideas.
Take, for instance, the relationship between CMO Dave Dahlberg and CIO John Barnes at cloud-computing service and consulting firm Model Metrics. Barnes is employee No. 8 at Model Metrics, and he's been there for six years. Dahlberg joined the firm three-and-a-half years ago, when the firm comprised 35 people. (Today, Model Metrics employs 200 people.)
"We joke about how we could jump into each others' roles at any time and be pretty well off," says Dahlberg. Adds Barnes: "It's a natural thing. Our objectives are very closely aligned."
Closely aligned, indeed. When Barnes identified a gap in mobile access to cloud services in the life-sciences industry, he not only created a product to fill the void, and also became its point person in the market.
Dahlberg says, "John's great at demonstrating and explaining and public speaking. I'm completely comfortable with him recording a demo video, speaking to reporters -- all that sort of thing."
Barnes' public-facing abilities are as unusual among his peers, says Dahlberg, as is his own facility with numbers crunching.
While their personal lives cross infrequently, the two have maintained their tight partnership despite Barnes being recently stationed in India. "There's a lot of Skype," chuckles Barnes.
How do they do it? Each appreciates the role the other plays and pursues a philosophy of radical openness between them.
"No skunkworks," says Barnes. No surprises, either. Product changes, new marketing angles -- everyone relevant to a product or initiative has to know ahead of time about changes.
Budgets have to be structured differently, too. "I consider a lot of John's money my money," says Dahlberg. "We look at money holistically. Instead of department by department, [it's] more subject by subject."
They say they don't know whether Model Metrics is part of a broader trend in the relationships between CIOs and CMOs. "Our relationship is a symptom of the culture of our company," says Dahlberg. "We don't even have offices. We have cubes. There's alignment beyond just he and I."
The firm may have lucked into its CIO/CMO team, but the execs wouldn't leave it up to chance in the future. "If John were to go," says Dahlberg, "I'd have veto power over his replacement."