Facebook and Twitter: Social media pushes CIOs and marketing closer

Social-media strategy needs a confluence of CIO and CMO expertise…

...capitalise on the people who live your business. Such internal communication is an opportunity to make a powerful difference through the confluence of IT and marketing."

The central role of communication - and the intertwined relationship between technology and marketing - is unlikely to dissipate soon. Malcolm Simpkin, CIO of the general insurance business at finance giant Aviva, says the significance of that relationship is particularly noticeable in digital-facing areas of the business.

"There's always pressure to produce information that shows the new opportunities for the business - basically, what works and where we can spend our money most effectively," he said. "There's a huge amount of work required to make things work for the customer."

The new era of collaboration, then, will require some IT leaders to move beyond their traditional comfort zone. But for some CIOs, the confluence of technology and the softer side of the business represents an opportunity to draw on skills developed during an earlier part of their career. Take Jo Stanford, who is group IT director at hotel and hospitality group De Vere and who spent the formative years of her career in marketing.

Switch from marketing to IT

"I spent 14 years as a marketing person, questioning why the IT system couldn't do something. I guess you should be careful what you wish for," she said, referring to her switch from marketing to IT director just over a decade ago.

"My friend was a headhunter and said he thought I'd be the perfect IT director. I was put forward for a job, met the commercial director and said I knew nothing about technology. But I did say I was commercially aware and that I could help formulate a new business strategy."

It was that focus on business that paid dividends during Stanford's five-year stint as IT director for infrastructure specialist Parsons Brinckerhoff, and which continues to be crucial in her current role at De Vere. She says the interaction between technology and the promotional area of the organisation is stronger than ever.

The result, said Stanford, is that successful IT leaders simply must "speak marketing", whether IT projects encompass online advertising and support in call centres, or web site issues and the implementation of a wider electronic strategy.

"The board, particularly the chief executive, is heavily engaged in the web strategy," she said. "But then I've never worked for a board that was disengaged, so I've been lucky - executives have always understood the importance of IT. Technology in a modern business is really visible and your strategy is crucial."

Increasingly web-enabled business environment

The significant role of IT is made even more evident through the increasing role of social media. It is therefore no surprise that, in an increasingly web-enabled business environment, marketing executives and other supply-chain professionals in all organisations are looking to garner the opinions of the CIO.

"Distribution strategies make or break companies," said Stuart Hill, who is vice president of central government at BT Global Services and the man responsible for leading the telecoms specialist's 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games deployment. "Social networks and the internet allow you to reach people that were previously beyond your grasp," Hill said. "As the expert in technology, the CIO simply has to talk to marketing."

Hill works extremely closely with Michael Cole, head of marketing and communications for BT's London 2012 programme. Cole sits on Hill's advisory board, helping to set the strategy for the next year or so in the lead up to the Games. "We work together," said Cole, referring to the intertwined relationship between IT and marketing. "Communication is essential - it has an integral role to the delivery of a project."

By Mark Samuels

Mark Samuels is a business journalist and editor at IT leadership organisation CIO Connect. He has written for various organisations, including the Economist Intelligence Unit, Guardian Government Computing and Times Higher Education.