Positions mixing IT and business elements are evolving as a result of hybrid IT trends, such as the growth of cloud computing, the use of social media as a collaboration tool and the adoption of bring-your-own-device policies and other consumerization approaches and technologies.
The chief information officer, once an IT-focused manager, is now a quasi-technology/business executive who needs to be skilled in the language of business as much as the speeds and feeds of technology. By embracing social media analytics tools that are doing away with traditional means of market research, chief marketing officers are getting more involved in technology issues -- and willingly abdicating some of their power to the very customers they're trying to reach. And new roles, such as chief digital officer and chief content officer, are combining some of the key attributes of CIOs and CMOs.
Two people in the know about hybrid IT jobs spoke at the recent SAS Global Forum in San Francisco. John Strain, CIO at specialty retailer Williams-Sonoma, was one; he discussed why formal technology training isn't necessarily required for a CIO.
I'm trusting what the customer is telling me [through social media].
chief marketing officer, SAS Institute
"I've seen the convergence," Strain said. "At one point, we had three of us who were sort of running different roles. It was the chief marketing officer, the person running the direct marketing capabilities and the CIO, and we all felt that if we could change jobs we'd be OK [about doing so]. All of us bring a similar skill set. I'm not a technology guy; I started with a finance degree."
Hybrid jobs promote holistic view
The other was Jim Davis, CMO at software vendor and forum organizer SAS Institute, who said he came from a computer science background and ended up in marketing. Whatever the stated titles executives and other employees have these days, it's important that they keep a holistic view of technology and business matters. For example, Davis explained, a data scientist is "not only someone who is an expert on predictive analytics but [also] has a keen understanding of business objectives and an understanding of computer science and models and is able to articulate that." The lack of such articulation "is the biggest gap in business today," he said.
Strain said the convergence of hybrid IT jobs in the C-suite bred "creative conflict" at Williams-Sonoma, with beneficial results on initiatives such as improving the company's website.
"The new hybrid [technologist] is able to speak to the technology and to the marketing side," he said. "I don't think necessarily this means we are all going to get along and sing 'Kumbaya' and ride off into the sunset. The reality is that we are still going to have that creative conflict about where to spend the dollars, who owns the customer, who owns the models -- and that's all good. We should continue to have that because we each challenge each other to get better and [on] how to best put it into play in the context of creating a personalized experience on the site."
And what about the role of the marketer, who traditionally has controlled the message -- only to now find that many key decisions about product direction and strategy are being heavily influenced or even dictated by customers through new channels such as social media sites? Davis sees it as a matter of evolving or dying.
An issue of trust
"There are a lot of [marketers] who came up through traditional MBA ranks and are having difficulty with this," he said. "But those that are embracing the technology -- I think there's so much to offer, especially from a social media perspective to determine what the customer has to say. Social media is the best focus group out there. I'm trusting what the customer is telling me [through social media]. I do trust the customer's knowledge more than I trust my knowledge."
To make social media outreach and analytics work for your company, he added, "you have to prove you can be a good listener, and you have to have a mindset to change."
That's the key for the evolving IT and business professional as much as it is overall for businesses looking to prosper and grow in the 21st century: Embrace change and the new hybrids that evolve out of it.
Scot Petersen is the editorial director of TechTarget's Business Applications and Architecture Media Group. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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