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Blurred lines: What is the role of today’s CIO?


If your primary focus is keeping the lights on and email servers up, then you’ve truly missed the boat as a CIO.

Industry projections estimated that by 2015, 25 percent of companies would have a Chief Digital Officer, but this year has all eyes glued on Silicon Valley where the Chief Revenue Officer is the ‘new breed of executive’ that has evolved.

Robby McDonald, CIO & CMO, SRS Distribution

No matter the title, technology organizations are increasingly and inextricably tied to their company’s bottom line growth.

Robby McDonald recently assumed the responsibilities of CIO and CMO at SRS Distribution. In the prime of his career, McDonald said the dual role is a natural progression in keeping with overall industry trend.

“Marketing and technology are so closely tied together, and the industry is moving towards the CIO and CMO playing in the same box,” McDonald noted.

Industry veteran Nigel Fortlage, newly re-titled as Vice President of IT & Social Business at GHY International explained the responsibilities of social business currently occupies about 50 percent of his time.

“This started out as an informal role in digital marketing to determine how we could use Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube for the business,” Fortlage explained. “We don’t have a CMO, so it was green space where I was working with a junior marketing rep.”

Whereas IT organizations are frequently viewed in company culture as a cost center, one CIO noted it’s the first place department heads go when the need new systems. In a recent conversation with peer CIOs from the midmarket, Fortlage was asked to elaborate on exactly what the role entailed.

So does the role involve choosing new tools and toys? Expansion of the business into the community? Driving relationships within the business?

The short answer is: yes.

Nigel Fortlage, Vice President I.T. & Social Business, GHY International

Fortlage said he could envision the Chief Digital Officer or Chief Revenue Office officer superseding the CIO role in the next 10 years.

“The person in this role is responsible for growing the business and identifying new revenue channels, so the focus is on the marketing and customer engagement. This means changes in operations workflows in terms of working with partners. It will directly affect the supply chain community, and companies will use technology more effectively for internal communications.”

McDonald’s dual role responsibilities were a natural progression from his early days at Dell, where he held multiple posts - including development of software that automated configurations when customers placed orders online - that all had touch points with buyers.

His next post as Global IT Director at Cadbury Schweppes involved product marketing to end consumers but selling to product distributors like convenience and grocery stores. He honed his skills as CIO at Eastern-Bell Sports where he built the company’s first E-Commerce solution and social media plan.

SRS directly supplies professional roofing contractors, so, marketing efforts are uniquely B2B. McDonald said he must identify meaningful ways to connect and engage with contractors to help them run their businesses more effectively and efficiently, find (and be found) new customers, increase their revenue and profitability. “Helping our customers build their business, helps us build our business.”

“How can I help make our buyers more sticky to us? What can we do to make their jobs easier? It really means putting myself in their shoes and considering what we can do to make their lives easier.”

So why would a CIO voluntarily shoulder the burden of driving company revenue while trying to keep pace with the rapidly evolving technology landscape?

McDonald said he’s watched his counterparts duke it out with marketing professionals brought into the role from outside the company.

“When you have a CIO who’s technically and digitally advanced, it created unnecessary conflict like back and forth about website functionality. From what I’ve seen, when it’s two different people co-owning that area within the company, it can delay delivery of results.”

With retirement in his sights, Fortlage said he’s always looking for ways to grow and excel.

“This plays off everything we’ve been talking about for eons to better align IT with the business. It’s the only thing that matters when you’re sitting in a board meeting talking about revenue.”

“The idea of defining and refining creative and business strategies that positively impact our business is the most immediate challenge,” McDonald added. “Executing and implementing those strategies by merging technology and marketing, using all of the tools available is the goal.

“As CIO and CMO, I am in a unique position to present new ideas to key stakeholders and produce results that have an impact on not only reaching but far exceeding our goals and projections.”

On deck: CIO to CEO? Three former tech execs move to the helm

Orlando | April 3 — 5, 2016

San Antonio | October 23 — 25, 2016

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