Dell's CIO and CMO: Can't we all just get along?

Adriana Karaboutis and Karen Quintos explain how they work together.

At a small lunch with reporters yesterday in San Francisco, Dell's CIO Adriana Karaboutis and CMO Karen Quintos shared their thoughts on the rising battles between the two functions at many companies. They told tales from Forrester's Forum For CMOs And CIOs of the two sides arguing over trivial issues like who's allowed to pull website traffic data!

Adriana Karaboutis and Karen Quintos

An Atypical Relationship

Things are different at Dell, they said. "We don't have a typical relationship," Karaboutis explained. "I don't need to control everything." That's a good thing, she added, because in the world of Software-as-a-Service, users can go buy anything they want without asking permission. Doing it the traditional way, the CMO just goes around the CIO.

Giving up control is one thing, but IT remains responsible for technology even it's not running it. So I asked Karaboutis if she cared about knowing about all the technology projects at the company.

"Of course I care what everyone is doing," Karaboutis said, "We need to know how to scale and secure it, and that worries me." But even though you still need IT at a big global company, she said, "once we started to enable users, there was a culture shift. I'm not chasing to know things, people are calling me." When users need to choose a new tool for file sharing, for example, "they come to us as opposed to being told 'you can't do that.' "

The change has been institutionalized in many ways. "There's no more IT steering committee," Karaboutis noted. Dell now has a Business Architecture Committee which focuses on strategic alignment and shared goals.

Much Less Waiting

From marketing's pespective, the change has been dramatic. Quintos said marketing used to have to wait 12-18 months to get on IT's roadmap for new services, but is not working with more of a collaborative mentality. "We know we can't do it on our own," she said.

Even budgets don't get in the way, Karaboutis said. "It doesn't matter what my budget is as long as we have enough to do what we need to do."

Everything isn't perfect in Round Rock, of course. "There's still tension," acknowledged Quintos, "especially lower down in the organization."

It all sounds good, and it seems clear that Karaboutis and Quintos really do work well together. But as they noted, their relationship is far from typical. I wonder if that collaborative model can be repeated easily in other organizations. In many companies, IT and marketing seem fated to fight it out for the foreseeable future. What's it like at your company?

Disclosure: I occasionally write for Dell's Tech Page One news site.

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