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Who is your Marketing or Communications CIO?

I was struck by a comment from Dan Hoban (@dwhoban) at GovCamp Queensland on Saturday, which resonated with me, and with others in the audience, that organisations now need a CIO (Chief Information Officer) in their marketing or communications teams.

This is a person who understands the technologies we use to communicate with customers, clients, citizens and stakeholders and can provide sound advice and expertise in a manner that traditional ICT teams cannot.

The role of this person is to understand the business goals and recommend approaches and technologies – particularly online – which are a best fit. Then it may be this person and their team, or an ICT team, who build and deliver the solutions needed.

When Dan named this role I realised it fit absolutely the role I had been performing in government for my five years in the public service, and for a number of years prior in the corporate sector.

Where ICT teams were focused largely on reactive management of large critical ICT systems – the SAPs, payment frameworks and secure networks – it has long been left to Online Communications, or similar teams or individuals in other parts of the organisation, to proactively introduce and manage the small and agile tools communicators use in public engagement.

No organisation I’ve worked in or spoken to has ICT manage their Facebook page, Twitter account, GovSpace blog or YouTube channel. Few ICT teams are equipped to cost-effectively and rapidly deliver a focused forum, blog, mobile app or data visualisation tool. They don’t recruit these skills or, necessarily, have experience in the right platforms and services.

When Communications teams seek advice on the online channels and technological tools they should use they ask ICT, but frequently are told that ICT doesn’t understand these systems (even when individuals within ICT might be highly skilled with them), doesn’t have the time or resources to commit in the timeframes required (due to the need to focus on critical systems), doesn’t have the design skills or that it would take months (sometimes years) to research and provide an effective opinion – plus it will cost a bomb.

So Communications teams, who have their own deliverables, have no choice but to recruit their own social media and online communications smarts.

It is this person, or team’s role, to understand Communication needs, make rapid and sound recommendations of channels and tools, design the systems and the interfaces, integrate the technologies (or manage the contractors who do) to deliver relevant and fast solutions on a budget.

So perhaps it is time to recognise these people for what they actually are for an organisation – a Marketing or Communications CIO.

I expect ICT teams will hate this. Information has long been their domain even though their focus is often on technology systems and they do not always understand the information or communication that feeds across these systems – the reason these systems actually exist.

Perhaps it is time for them need to rethink their role, or let go of the agile online and mobile spaces and focus on the big ticket systems and networks – remain the heart, but not always the adrenal glands or, indeed, the brains, of an organisation’s ICT solutions.

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Julianne Sanders

In my last agency, I was director of a Comms and marketing/events team of 27. We managed the agencies corporate website, intranet and 9 other campaign and event sites and their associated social media tools in line with the campaign’s PR, marketing and community engagement strategies. Of those 27 staff, at least two were IT techies who worked closely with us to develop online tools that were agile and suited the various needs of each campaign. They also were the contact and liaison for anyything regarding our ICT systems.
It was a really great way of working.
We were very spoiled as I haven’t seen this staffing arrangement in government much at all.