OPINION11 February 2014

Laying claim to the CIO crown


Why insights professionals, not IT people, are the real ‘chief information officers’. By KAE’s Keith Jopling.


What did an IT director do 10 years ago? Commissioned and managed the build and maintenance of a firm’s IT systems, kept a close eye on the smooth running of any business operations that involved IT systems, and, more than likely, managed major transitions and business continuity when migrating from a legacy system to a new one.

Compare that with what a chief technology officer does now. In the age of the ‘born digital’ firm, many CTOs are the company’s founders. They are very much part of the ‘inner sanctum’ along with the CEO, CFO and the company investors. They are the engine of these businesses.

“The ‘chief information officer’ title has been well and truly claimed by the IT crowd. But should insight professionals be happy with this state of affairs?”

Keith Jopling

Keith Jopling

In large multi-nationals, the role of the IT director has also expanded beyond recognition over the past decade. IT strategy is more closely tied to business strategy, with big data seen as the new challenge in CRM. IT has taken on the vital role of holistic information management. Hence the ‘chief information officer’ title has been well and truly claimed by the IT crowd.

But should insight professionals be happy with this state of affairs?

I think not. Data might have ‘gone digital’, but data is still data. Data still needs to be captured, tamed, rinsed and transformed into insights – the stuff that drives better decisions, investments, confidence and growth.

Of course, like IT or management consultancy, insights can be used to mitigate risk. But in the new world of information abundance, disruptive competitors and the breakneck pace of business decisions, what’s really needed from insights is ideas. Almost every senior executive I talk to these days is looking for ideas, and they want those ideas to be built around customer needs.

Amidst the talk of big data, behavioural economics and web analytics, there are doubts and insecurities over the future role of more ‘traditional’ research. But understanding the consumer mindset, and knowing how various data sources come together to create a fuller picture of the customer decision journey is more critical than ever. As Wharton’s professor of marketing, Peter Fader, said recently: “Market research becomes part of big data – let’s marry what people are doing with what people are saying.”

As insight professionals, our world and our way of working are rapidly transforming. It is insight professionals who are best positioned to apply the appropriate processes, discipline and creative thinking required to mash all these sources together. It is something we need to take control of. If we want our insights have real business impact, we need to make our work and its outputs very much part of the action.

So how do we do that? The elements we work with are stable. We just need to take each element and think – really think – about what we can do to instil new values, skills, tools and techniques to up our game.

Management consultants and IT professionals have done it effectively for years, with a compromised grasp of data, customer understanding, market sensing and business foresight. But when it comes to these areas, which are so critical to marketing, strategy and innovation, it is those responsible for insight that need to step forward and be heard.

The time has come for the insight director to claim the CIO title.

Keith Jopling is senior vice-president of KAE


10 years ago

I wholeheartedly agree, Keith. It is time for Insights professionals to reclaim that territory. However, as for all change questions, the formula is: D x V x F > R I'm not sure everyone shares a V. But, for those of us who do, let's work on F!

Like Report

10 years ago

Exactly one of the reasons I started Next Gen Market Research group eight years ago http://www.linkedin.com/e/gis/31804. While I do see CTO’s/CIO’s become less technically focused, they seem now to be more business and management focused, but not more insights focused. Of course that’s the same thing we see at the top levels in the largest MR suppliers as well. The problem is, with Big Data, the tech knowledge is a requirement, the softer insight skills are not. The tech skills are difficult/expensive to get, and the path to them is quite different. Certainly there is some bridging that needs to be done here. The question is will it be tech folks who add insight knowledge or insights folks who add tech knowledge. Unfortunately I think the former is probably somewhat more likely. Either way though, it is likely to be a small sought after elite group who have both these skills in the near term. And that’s very good news for those of us who already have recognized the knowledge gap and sought those complimentary skills.

Like Report