Who Really Needs to Own Enterprise Mobile Web Strategy - the CMO or the CIO?


It is a very interesting question that numerous enterprises are now struggling with – when devising mobile Web and mobile app strategies, who should end up with the larger role? The chief marketing officer defines the “why” and functional specs that mobile Web and mobile apps strategies need to deliver on; the chief information officer defines the “how” of implementation. Do the two – or should the two – have equal representation?

In the past this was entirely the CIO’s domain. The technical challenges the CIO deals with have until recently trumped the CMO’s focus on the customer experience. But the times they are a’changin,’ as Bob Dylan would have it. In today’s world the model may be rapidly shifting in the CMO’s favor. Is it really happening?

Even more important, is it something that should happen? Are there potential pitfalls to such a scenario? With more than one in four people now spending more than six hours a day on the mobile Web, this CMO-CIO battle will have major implications for how customers interact with companies. Ultimately it will also define which companies in any customer-facing market segment will gain real strategic advantages and win.


Netbiscuits, a vendor directly focused on software solutions for adaptive Web experiences through its cloud-based Netbiscuits Cloud Platform, decided to look for an answer to the question. To do so the company worked with market research vendor Vanson Bourne to conduct a U.S./U.K. survey that targeted 300 CIOs, CMOs and other C-Level executives and asked them about the mobile web strategies within their organizations.

Of notable interest the survey uncovered very real internal tensions between CIOs and CMOs, and found that these tensions are driven by the different motivations each brings to the table in building for the mobile web. Tensions also exist relative to their respective beliefs on which office should ultimately be responsible for ownership of this key strategic function.

The enterprises that took part in the survey were companies with customer-facing websites who had at least 100 employees. Twenty-five percent of these organizations were businesses with over 5,000 employees. Of the 300 respondents, 200 participants were located and interviewed in the United States and 100 were located the United Kingdom. As a takeoff point we will note, as the graphic below shows, that among all the survey panelists, 44 percent of them claimed that the CIO owns the control. We actually were anticipating the percentage being closer to 70 percent.

Below we offer a visual overview of the key results from the survey and our commentary on the results. Netbiscuits has entertainingly set it up as a contest, but in a very real sense it indeed really is a contest.

In Round 1, the key question centers on "attitude towards objectives." Both groups are obviously well-centered on delivering multiple points of access for interaction. However, while the CIO response to "improving customer engagement" is more or less where we expect the CIO's attitude to be, we are quite surprised to learn that only 44 percent of CMO respondents find this important. We would have expected something much closer to 90 percent.

In Round 2, we get to the question of who has ownership of an enterprise's mobile strategy. Although the CIO still dominates here, "dominate" is a very relative word. A 44 percent ownership suggests that CIO influence is already waning. Though SMO ownership is only 21 percent at this point in time, when we factor in the joint CMO-CIO ownership, there is clearly a shift being underscored here. Ideally we would want to see a well-balanced and shared ownership, but the CMO drives visibility and ultimately sales, and in today's fast-paced mobile world this is key. We can therefore anticipate continued CMO growth here and we look for an increase in that 21 percent number, which will come at the expense of the 44 percent.

Very interestingly, Round 3 fully supports what we anticipate to be the trend strongly suggested in Round 2. Clearly the majority of CMOs - 51 percent - are becoming very aggressive in demanding ownership of a company's mobile Web and overall mobile strategies. CIOs, however, don't necessarily disagree with this viewpoint. We find it surprising that only 9 percent of CIOs believe they should have the mobile Web strategy function in their camp and that only 18 percent believe they need more control. Unhealthy CIO complacency perhaps?

Given how Rounds 2 and 3 have turned out, it is hardly surprising to also see that only 9 percent of CMOs are even remotely interested in sharing ownership of mobile strategies. This number is so low as to suggest that CMO aggressiveness may be even more overt than the earlier rounds suggest. Coupled with the relatively low percentages for the CIO and other executives, which suggests apathy on the issue to us as far as CIOs and other C-level execs are concerned, it would appear that CMOs are very nicely positioned to gain the control they so strongly desire.

Round 5 is, in our humble opinion, a crucial indicator of why CMOs having all the ownership of mobile Web and overall mobile strategies represents a clear and present danger for enterprises. That only 50 percent of CMOs believe that testing is critical to improving and delivering improved customer experiences is hard to fathom. At 75 percent CIOs are much more in turn with the need for deep testing of any plans, any strategies and any resulting mobile applications - Web-based or otherwise. CMOs are likely to want to rush solutions out the door - and this would prove to be a critical error.

To no one's surprise, as far as Match Results are concerned, Netbiscuits obviously believes that at the end of the day the shared approach - where CMOs own "defining customer experiences" while CIOs own the "defining of delivering on customer experience platforms to implement CMO definitions" is the logical outcome of the match they have presented. Well, one can hope that this scenario emerges.

Daniel Weisbeck, Netbiscuits' own CMO, suggests, “Mobile Web strategy must be based on clear, common business objectives with targets defined in both the CIO and CMO areas. The real battle to watch therefore is not between the CIO and the CMO, but whether a joint CMO-CIO approach or a dedicated function approach provides the best mechanism to align customer experience objectives with the technical challenges of delivering these goals. A successful combination of their approaches and motivations provides the real basis for an extremely strong mobile strategy.”

Weisbeck also happens to own the COO title so perhaps he is better positioned to swing the shared ownership scenario. He can order himself and his CIO (assuming the CIO reports to him - the position may not actually do so) to cooperate.

However, regardless of what Weisbeck says, the CMO-CIO match as presented through the research noted throughout strongly suggests that the shared experience is likely to be doomed across many enterprises. The CMO appears to us to have the upper hand, at least as far as who looks to have the more dominant hand - or rather, at least as far as who looks to have the desire to have the dominant hand.

We don't believe that full CMO ownership of mobile or mobile Web strategies is a desirable outcome. We fully agree with Weisbeck as to how that ownership should evolve and emerge across all businesses. Weisbeck doesn't go far enough is underscoring that the CMO can conceivably take over. It is time for CIOs to step up and either assert or re-assert themselves. Right away!

Edited by Alisen Downey
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TechZone360 Senior Editor

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