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The CIO's New Job

By Brian P. Watson  |  Posted 06-05-2008 Print

Wharton IT guru Eric K. Clemons says customer feedback online will be the next make-or-break criterion for sales. Where does the CIO fit in?

What makes this the province of the CIO and not of the chief marketing officer or someone else?

Clemons: This is enormously data-intensive. CIOs have people who know how to do this--how to get all your data off the Internet and into your own internal operations. They know how to look for the relationship between sales and reviews, know what in the reviews drives the sales and knows what in the internal operations drives the reviews.

Finding what matters requires fairly subtle statistics and insight, so the CIO may want to get someone from marketing or QA involved. But it's very data-intensive. It's not like marketing, where you go out and get your data. In this, you don't get your data--you find your data. This isn't about conducting surveys; this is about finding what people actually see and look at and use. Marketing people may be better right now at analyzing the data, but the CIO is probably much better now at getting it.

It's an interesting opportunity. But what if the CIO has too many other responsibilities? What's the downside of not proactively attacking the problem?

Clemons: I always think of the CIO as the chief data officer: the one who knows how to find any information you want. Historically, CIOs have thought of themselves as the people who make sure data is available, make sure you have the right piping, make sure the internal interfaces work and make sure the interfaces to the outside world work. So much of the data you want is external, not internal.

There are two possible roles for the CIO in this arena: He can declare himself the central nervous system for the organization--the one who finds out what people are and aren't looking at. Or he can declare himself the data vacuum--the person who pulls data off the Net for the marketing team at the marketing team's direction.

CIOs can decide whether they want to be at the center of a great detective game or simply be a data vacuum.

You call this a new assignment for CIOs, but are they in step with what you're saying?

Clemons: These events are rare, really complicated to diagnose and, until recently, had no commercial impact. The hotel chain I looked at was blaming corporate for its inability to sell, but it turned out to be the negative reviews. Nobody in the corporation had asked about the relationship between online reviews and online marketability.

CIOs haven't been asked to do this yet. But they will be.


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